Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday urged public school administrators to cooperate with a statewide study of broadband capacity in schools.
In a speech at a conference of the Arkansas Association of Education Administrators in Little Rock, Beebe said the task force Faster Arkansas, the state Department of Education’s Quality Digital Learning Study and his office are gathering information on what capacity for broadband exists at K-12 schools across the state to determine what is needed, with the ultimate goal of making high-speed Internet available in every school district.
"Not only can we not do it without you, I wouldn’t even want to try to do it without you. So you’ve got to figure out what you’ve got, you’ve got to figure out what you don’t have, and you’ve got to do some analysis to see forward," the governor said.
Beebe said some school administrators are understandably wary about sharing the information, but he urged them to be forthcoming.
"If you get a call from Jerry Jones (the chairman of Faster Arkansas and chief ethics and legal officer at Acxiom), he’s not a vendor," he said. "He works for Acxiom. He’s got knowledge in it. They’re not in the mix. They’re not trying to get a contract. They’re not trying to make money off it. He’s doing this at my request and that group’s doing it at my request, just like Ed Franklin (chairman of the Quality Digital Learning Study and executive director of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges) and his group are doing it at my request — to gather information. For God’s sake, share it."
The governor said some superintendents have suggested connecting school districts to the Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network. He noted that current law limits AREON to use by higher education but said, "I’ve never seen an obstacle that we couldn’t overcome. … and an option on the table certainly is to look at that legislation."
He acknowledged that some have raised concerns about the cost of expanding broadband capacity but assured the association that costs would be kept to a minimum.
"We’ve got folks that’ll hold you up and try to charge you an arm and a leg. I’m the sheriff. I’ll take care of that pert of it, OK? We’ll get it at the most reasonable cost we can get it," he said.