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Monday, June 16, 2014

Can't we create a virtual win-win?

As a small business owner, I am more than somewhat sympathetic to the desire local internet providers have to sell services to the school districts in their areas.

BUT  (and, just as I typed it, it's a big "but") by putting the needs of the schools and, more importantly, the students first, we're also putting all of Arkansas first.
We can't teach students in a barely digital, 20th-century environment and adequately prepared them to be productive in a highly digital, 21st-century world.

Truly, we're hindering our state's progress, if we do. And, let's face it, Arkansas has a history of doing that.

School officials have been voicing the need for more broadband access for years. It's not a new problem. But it has been a money problem and one that private providers have been too slow in trying to help solve. Instead, and this is a natural tendency, of course, they've viewed it as a source of revenue for themselves.

Wouldn't it be nice if the industry and the state could join together to find a solution that helped everyone. After all, just as Arkansas needs smart students who grow up to be productive citizens (hopefully who stay here to make a better Arkansas) we also need to support our small businesses.

We work with a client who has a great model for doing that. Arkansas Preschool Plus wants to improve early childhood education in the state. While some states are pursuing this goal by funding preschool, Arkansas Preschool Plus is partnering with communities to support private day cares and early childhood centers in their area. They are boosting education for young children AND helping small businesses serve their clients better. It's a win-win.

FASTER Arkansas, a group of private industry representatives appointed by Gov. Beebe, back the state's proposal to change the law so school districts can join ARE-ON. (FASTER stands for Fast Access for Students, Teachers and Economic Results and ARE-On stands for Arkansas Research Education Optical Network.)
FASTER Arkansas believes this will provide a cost-savings to the state and to school districts.

As they testified at the legislature last week, ARE-ON is also a public-private partnership. We hope that means the organization, which currently serves higher education, will create that symbiotic relationship that will benefit everyone -- private providers, school districts and students.
Wouldn't that be best?

Gov. Beebe and two education organizations -- Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators and Arkansas Rural Education Association -- think so. Here's an exerpt from an email AREA sent to its membership:

"Out of 42 states using this network, or a similar network,  Arkansas is the only state that has made it unlawful for K-12 students to access ARE-ON. These other states also have more and less expensive broadband for their students. ADE surveyed schools in 2013 and found that schools were paying from $1.20 per MB to $2.80 per MB and 80% of schools said their broadband connections were inadequate.

"Both Quality Digital Learning Study Committees recommended that ARE-ON be the backbone service provider to schools and let the private providers connect from ARE-ON to a central location at the school. The study also recommends professional development for teachers and network technical support to help districts create, maintain and effectively utilize local area networks.

"For this plan to be implemented, Act 1050 must be changed to allow K-12 to have access to ARE-ON."

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