- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas students could receive broadband network access twice as fast as originally planned under a revised proposal by state officials that could cost an additional $6 million.

Department of Information Systems Director Mark Myers told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1I898Kn ) the upgraded network will be 40 times faster than current infrastructure- a speed of 200 kilobits per second per user. He said it will allow for better electronic testing and assist with virtual classrooms.

“You might have a Chinese 3 instructor in Bentonville, but you don’t have one in Fayetteville. Why can’t you have a virtual classroom there?” Myers said.

Myers said the additional cost will be covered by delayed reimbursements from the federal government’s E-rate program. Myers said the E-rate reimbursements had been delayed because the government wanted state broadband contracts to match the start and end dates of the fiscal year, forcing the state to request a waiver.

More than 20 telecommunications companies were awarded contracts to upgrade the Arkansas Public School Computer Network at a cost of $49 million earlier this year. Some schools buy broadband from state and private companies, but institutions won’t have to buy broadband from both once the upgrade is complete, Myers said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved the $6 million in funding after the state received reimbursement commitments from the federal government. His spokesman said the upgrade is aligned with the governor’s campaign promise to provide computer science courses to all Arkansans. He signed a law in February requiring all public high schools to offer computer science courses beginning in the 2015-2016 school year.

“Obviously this is good news for districts across the state. Faster speeds means more productivity, less wait time,” said Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis. “Also, the governor’s focused on computer science. This obviously goes hand in hand with that.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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