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Arkansas becomes nationwide leader in connecting schools to internet

Arkansas is the first state in the country to reach the F.C.C.'s goal of having one megabit per student in every classroom in the state.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The non-profit organization that worked with Arkansas' political leaders to wire every school in the state with high-speed broadband is bragging on the work here to other parts of the country.

"Arkansas is shining star," said Evan Marwell, the CEO of Education Superhighway, a San Francisco-based NGO who worked governor Asa Hutchinson on his effort to get broadband to every school. "You are one of the leaders."

"We recognized the urgent need to get high speed broadband to our schools in Arkansas," the Republican said of the push he made shortly after taking office in 2014.

Marwell's group teamed up with state leaders as soon as the governor committed to creating a statewide network. That move convinced the F.C.C. to send money from Washington to back the project. Securing those funds proved to be a lot of the heavy lifting.

"Arkansas is the first state in the country to reach the F.C.C.'s goal of having one megabit per student in every classroom in the state," Marwell said.

The governor says fast internet speeds are needed for modern education, especially his push to make computer coding a part of curricula at all grade levels and to be able to take part in online testing and instruction.

"You can't go to online testing if you don't have the right speed," he said. "If your coding, you've got to have not just one student on the computer but 30 students."

RELATED: US gov. says it will give $7 million to expand internet access to rural Arkansas

The biggest challenges to reaching the goal (after getting the money) were in making sure the schools had the infrastructure to deliver the broadband to every classroom. A similar challenge remains when kids leave school and head home.

"You have that access in the classroom, but then they go home into their rural home and might not have that same speed," the governor said.

Marwell said Arkansas got a great response from the internet providers in the state, and that will be key as the governor hopes to push broadband beyond the school and into every community in the state. 

"You've essentially got an anchor point in every county and every community in Arkansas that is getting high speed internet," Marwell said, echoing the governor who said they are counting on wired broadband to offer the most ability to expand as technology evolves.

"It's a changing world and the speeds will increase, demands will increase, technology will change," the governor said. "All we can do is make the best decisions now. And we have to rejoice in those success stories, and this is one of those."

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