The state Department of Education has signed agreements with AT&T and T-Mobile to purchase Wi-Fi access points and data plans at a reduced cost for every school district in the state, according to a news release from the Governor’s office.
Students will receive the devices and internet access at no cost. The project will be funded with $10 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund provided through the federal CARES Act program.
The Arkansas Department of Education will purchase as many as 20,000 devices which will be allocated to each school district based on enrollment. The school districts will distribute the devices based on need within the community, according to the news release.
“As the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to adjust our methods of teaching, we have become even more aware of the need for virtual education as an option,” Hutchinson said. “This project expands our reach and narrows the gap between those who have access to high-speed broadband and those who do not. This is especially important for our rural communities and for families who otherwise might not be able to afford this vital access. This project opens new opportunities for our educators, parents, and students.”
The agreement with AT&T and T-Mobile guarantees high-speed internet with unlimited data for two years for about $20 per month per device. The providers have also agreed to allow districts to purchase additional devices and data at the same rate as the state plan.
Access to the internet is “critical to education,” said Secretary of Education Johnny Key.
“Providing Wi-Fi access points to students will allow for a seamless transition between onsite and offsite instruction as needed,” Key said. “This will support continued learning and allow for greater flexibility.”
The program is a joint project of ADE, the Arkansas State Broadband Office, and the Governor’s Office.