Arkansas, Virginia partner with EducationSuperHighway to design a roadmap for bringing broadband to every student
Arkansas and Virginia have teamed up with the San Francisco-based nonprofit EducationSuperHighway  to design a cost-effective plan for meeting President Obama’s goal of ensuring broadband access for every student.
EducationSuperHighway, whose mission is to “close the K-12 digital divide and open the door to new learning and teaching opportunities” in the nation’s schools, is surveying the available bandwidth in Arkansas and Virginia classrooms.
The group then will assess what broadband technologies are available in each state. Working with state and local education leaders and with service providers, EducationSuperHighway will form a plan for delivering high-speed internet to each state’s schools in the most efficient way possible.
If these pilot projects are successful, they could become models for other states to follow, said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway.
President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, announced last year , calls for 99 percent of American students to have broadband access in their classrooms by 2018. The initiative defines broadband as at least 100 kilobits per second of bandwidth for every student.
(Next page: How EducationSuperHighway is assessing these states’ needs—and what the organization has learned from its work in Arkansas)
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 .