Friday, June 13, 2014

Beebe joins push for giving schools access to state broadband network

Posted By on Fri, Jun 13, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Gov. Mike Beebe weighed in today on the battle over a state law that prohibits schools from tying into a state system for broadband, leaving them to get the service for telecom companies. His release:

Governor Mike Beebe today called for a change in Arkansas law to restore the opportunity for school districts to access an existing statewide broadband network. His comments came as the Arkansas Board of Education adopted the Arkansas Digital Learning Study at their Friday meeting. Beebe has endorsed the report as well.

In 2011, the passage of Act 1050 created an exemption that prevented K-12 schools from accessing the Arkansas Research Education Optical Network, known as ARE-ON. Without that access, the recent report from the Quality Digital Learning Study Committee found the current network infrastructure for K-12 schools to be inadequate, inefficient and a poor return on taxpayer investment.

"Whatever the reasons were behind the exemption passed in 2011, it has become clear that Act 1050 has impeded our progress in developing a reliable and efficient broadband infrastructure for Arkansas students," Beebe said. "Giving K-12 schools the opportunity to access ARE-ON will provide better online availability for our students and save our taxpayers money."

The FASTER Arkansas Committee, which has also been studying broadband access, agrees that changing Act 1050 in the near future is the single most productive step we can take toward a stronger broadband infrastructure in Arkansas education.

Phone companies are fighting this. Walton money is pushing for the state network. A key player in this issue happens to be Susan Harriman, director of policy at the state Education Department. She's the wife of Beebe's chief of staff, Morril Harriman. Phone companies say there are legitimate questions about individual school districts' ability to provide tech support necessary, among other issues.

Benji Hardy has been writing about this for us, most recently on Monday.

Political fact: Beebe won't be governor during the January 2015 legislative session. Surely this isn't something that would be grafted onto the possible special session for yet another fix for teacher health insurance?

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