- Associated Press - Monday, August 11, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe announced Monday that the state can reallocate $15 million it now spends on obsolete Internet connections to build a high-speed fiber network that would bring broadband service to mainly rural schools.

Beebe said he still believes that K-12 schools should be able to access the high-speed system used by Arkansas’ universities but that working through other options can help solve the problem.

Last week, legislators approved spending up to $200,000 to study the need to update high-speed Internet connections in schools across the state.

Beebe said the $15 million will be redirected from obsolete copper-based networks and used with federal money to construct a high-speed fiber network.

Evan Marwell, CEO of the San Francisco-based nonprofit group EducationSuperHighway, said the federal government generally provides a 4 to 1 match for state money devoted to Internet access. The organization works to ensure schools across the country have high-capacity Internet connections and is including Arkansas in a pilot program to bring better data access.

A “simple reallocation” of the $15 million can connect rural schools in remote areas to broadband, and the group plans to develop a strategy to upgrade broadband in all Arkansas schools, Marwell said. That will help Arkansas reach goals for 2018 set by President Barack Obama for swift Internet service for all schools.

Jerry Jones, a vice president at Little Rock-based Acxiom Corp. chaired a 30-member task force devoted to finding ways to expand broadband in Arkansas schools.

“We’re not as far behind as we thought,” Jones said.

Jones compared the importance of improving school Internet access to the effort to bring electricity to rural areas in the 1920s and 1930s.



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