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Broadband pilots could serve as models for other states
To take an inventory of the current state of internet access in Arkansas and Virginia classrooms, EducationSuperHighway is analyzing eRate requests for each of these states’ schools, among other data.
With its new eRate rules announced last month, the Federal Communications Commission has called for more transparency in eRate data. School leaders and others will be able to review applicants’ Item 21 funding requests online starting next year, which will make data collection easier, Marwell said.
The process is further along in Arkansas, which already collected this information at the state level—and looking at the Arkansas data has been eye-opening.
“Our common perception is that Arkansas is behind the curve,” Marwell said, “but that’s wrong.” More than half of Arkansas districts already have enough bandwidth to meet the president’s ConnectED goal.
Yet, the state’s contract supplying internet access to every school is “horribly inefficient,” Marwell added. Arkansas spends up to $15 million a year delivering bandwidth to every school through copper circuits.
EducationSuperHighway’s analysis found the state was spending half its investment to achieve only 5 percent of its total bandwidth to students. The analysis revealed a key opportunity to deliver broadband to every Arkansas school through fiber-optic connections instead, Marwell said.
In Virginia, the data-collection phase is just getting under way. Marwell said officials hope to have the first set of information back this fall.
EducationSuperHighway is hoping to work with other states as well, beginning next spring. “We want to see involvement from the top” before partnering with other states, Marwell said, referring to support from state governors.
Follow Special Projects Editor Dennis Pierce via Twitter: @eSN_Dennis.