Guest writer

Top of the class

Computer network aids schools

High-speed and highly secure broadband connectivity is essential to providing Arkansas' students with a 21st Century education. Because of that, we at the Department of Information Systems and the Department of Education plan to invest in an improved Arkansas Public School Computer Network (APSCN).

Our goal is to provide every school district in Arkansas with Internet access at speeds up to 200 times faster than ever before while ensuring high levels of security. These improvements also could result in substantial savings to Arkansas taxpayers.

Over the last two years, numerous groups have analyzed the state's K-12 broadband landscape. Two options arose for improving the state's network: (1) direct Internet procured independently by each district from providers; or (2) improvements to the statewide aggregated network.

Based on recommendations from the national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, Governor Asa Hutchinson directed the departments to build a statewide aggregated network. Improving APSCN will meet the high-speed broadband needs for effective digital learning in 2015 and beyond. The improved network also will maximize Arkansas' funding eligibility under the federal government's E-rate program, which means that money from Arkansans stays in Arkansas.

Key areas in which an improved APSCN will benefit Arkansas' public school students include the following:

Security. The state will maintain strong network security systems so that students can safely access appropriate educational content.

Efficiency. A statewide aggregated network can better handle a growing amount of work.

Customer Service. The Department of Information Systems monitors network connections 24 hours a day. In many cases, network support can troubleshoot an issue before a customer is aware of the problem. A dedicated K-12 network operations center adds tremendous value because it resolves issues and it serves as a single point of contact for districts.

Resiliency. The resiliency of a network is its ability to maintain connectivity, even in the event of equipment or circuit failure. The improved APSCN will be highly resilient.

We'll move fast to upgrade our network--with a July 2015 start and full implementation by July 2017. Once completed, APSCN will (1) be strong enough to meet national standards for Internet infrastructure capabilities; (2) enable the Department of Education to fully fund the expanded bandwidth to school districts within its existing budget; (3) maximize the state's purchasing power; and (4) lower Internet costs to school districts and ultimately save taxpayer dollars.

Digital learning tools are transforming K-12. We recognize that a robust broadband infrastructure capable of supplying high speeds makes it possible for students to use these tools.

Expanded bandwidth afforded by an improved Arkansas Public School Computer Network will open doors to a new world of learning through remote collaboration with other students, videoconferencing, and real-time video exploration of distant areas across the globe.

The need for technology doesn't stop at the end of the school day. Bringing high-speed Internet into public schools could generate greater demand for it from residential and business customers of local providers. This could broaden the scope of learning opportunities, create a better-educated workforce, bring more jobs to the state, and help Arkansas retain its best and brightest talent.

For these reasons, we believe the state is making a wise investment in an improved statewide aggregated network. Investment in APSCN underscores the state's commitment to providing our students with a world-class education and will elevate Arkansas to the top of the class as a national leader in digital learning.


Mark Myers is director of the Arkansas Department of Information Systems; Johnny Key is commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education.

Editorial on 04/23/2015