Senate Passes Bill to Increase Internet Speeds in Alaskan Schools

    Juneau, AK (KINY) - Alaskan Students might be getting a boost in their internet speeds if Senate Bill 102 makes its way through the entire process.

    The bill would increase the minimum connection speed from 10mbps to 25mbps, presumably download speeds, for schools.

    This would be done by directing funds form the higher education fund to increase the amount of Broadband Assistance Grants (BAG) the state can pay to school districts. According to a Press Release, there are currently 137 schools in 29 districts that receive that award. SB102 would bring 197 schools up to the new minimum and provide funding for schools hoping to meet that goal.

    “This bill is about equity,” said Sen. Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River), co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “This is about providing equal opportunity to students in remote areas of Alaska.”

    The total cost of Internet services in Fiscal Year 2016 was approximately $92.6 million. The Federal E-Rate program discount covered $79.1 million of that cost, and the School BAG awards covered $3.4 million. School districts across the state only had to pay a cumulative sum of $10 million in FY 2016; therefore, the value of E-Rate and BAG awards for our schools is tremendous. This bill will leverage somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of the total cost in federal dollars. For every state dollar, the state receives about eight dollars from the federal government.

    “This bill is the best step the Legislature can take to enhance broadband in rural Alaska in an immediate manner,” said Sen. Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage). “A relatively small investment in broadband yields an eightfold increase in federal funds, which also includes jobs for Alaskans, particularly in rural locations where jobs are hard to come by.”

    This increased speed is hope to be used as a way to connect students to additional resources online. Online classes or programs are already being offered in many Alaskan schools, but they could use some faster speeds to make them truly effective.

    SB102 passed the Senate 18-1 and will now head to the House for consideration. 

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