LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas could save $8.52 million a year if public K-12 schools obtained Internet service solely from private providers and disconnected from the state-run APSCN network, consultants told lawmakers Wednesday.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas could save $8.52 million a year if public K-12 schools obtained Internet service solely from private providers and disconnected from the state-run APSCN network, consultants told lawmakers Wednesday.


Consultants with CT&T of North Little Rock also told the House and Senate education committees they do not see a need for the state to connect K-12 schools to the broadband network that serves public colleges and universities in the state, the Arkansas Research Education Optical Network, or ARE-ON.


Presenting a report on CT&T’s study of Internet access in Arkansas schools, Senior Project Manager Jody Craft said the Arkansas Public School Computer Network, or APSCN, uses outdated technology and provides only a tiny fraction of the bandwidth that private providers can provide.


As a result, nearly all Arkansas schools have already obtained Internet service from private providers either directly or though a district hub, making APSCN largely redundant, he said.


Craft said the state Department of Information Systems, which runs APSCN, also has a poor success rate in obtaining offset funding from the federal E-rate program, which offers discounts and rebates to schools and libraries for telecommunications services. In 2013, only 33.6 percent of DIS’ requests were funded, whereas 95.1 percent of school districts’ requests were funded, he said.


About 65 percent of schools have a broadband capacity of at least 100 kilobits per second per student. Craft said. Increasing capacity to that level for the remaining 35 percent of schools could be done in 12 months at a cost of $5.3 million, or $1.1 million with E-rate discounts.


He told lawmakers that APSCN is costing the state $11.9 million a year, or $10.6 million after rebates from the federal E-rate program. If the state were to discontinue APSCN and reinvest the savings in bringing all schools to 100 kilobits per second through private providers, the annual cost would be $10.4 million, or $2.08 million after E-rate discounts, he said.


"You could actually cover the entire broadband connectivity spend with an $8 million savings overall in what you spent last year. We feel strong about these numbers," Craft said.


He also recommended that the state appoint someone to work with the Federal Communications Commission, which administers the E-rate program, to find out what has been holding up funding.


Some have advocated amending state law to allow K-12 schools to connect to ARE-ON. Craft said CT&T believes that no statewide "backbone" like ARE-On is needed.


"We do not see a backbone, if it is deployed, solving any Internet access needs," he said. "It only adds a cost component that we feel is unjustified."


House Speaker-designate Jeremy Gilliam, R-Judsonia, told reporters after the hearing that the CT&T report, as well as an earlier report by EducationSuperHighway, showed there are more cost-effective options than connecting K-12 schools to ARE-ON.


"There doesn’t seem to be an appetite to pursue that option any longer," he said.