C-Level View | Feature

Showcasing the Importance of Broadband

A rural community college hopes to use its network to persuade service providers and local leaders about the critical need for regional broadband access.

This story appears in the October 2013 digital edition of Campus Technology. Click here for a free subscription to the magazine.

The uneven distribution of high-speed broadband threatens to widen the digital divide in the US. At South Arkansas Community College, CIO Tim Kirk is looking for ways to use his school's network to support his community and pave the way for high-speed broadband access across the region. CT recently asked him about his plans.

Campus Technology: Given the rural areas served by SouthArk CC, is broadband access lacking?

Tim Kirk: SouthArk is part of the state network, and there are several commercial service providers in El Dorado. If you live within the city, you can get good broadband services, but as soon as you go a few miles beyond the city boundaries, you quickly lose service. You are in rural Arkansas. There, a large number of students and the population in general just don't have good connectivity. Your interactive device is only as good as its connection, and the digital divide out there becomes omnipresent.

CT: What is your college doing now to improve access for surrounding communities?

Kirk: We try to help provide better access wherever we can: For example, we support the community's use of our network. A large proportion of our "library users" come onto campus just to access the WiFi. In fact, such users make up roughly a third of our network users. It's part of the college's outreach--as long as it doesn't interfere with the students in our academic programs, it's something we want to plan for. For rural students, we set up remote classrooms and interactive video services in areas where it's impractical for them to come to us.

CT: What can the college do to help promote better broadband access in the future?

Kirk: Looking long-term, I know we'll have water, electricity, sewage, and broadband access as basic, required utilities. But to make that happen, we have to find a way to encourage providers to say, "We want to go to these areas with broadband." I think we need public awareness--or even a little pressure brought to bear.

As the local community college, we can help by showcasing all the technologies that change the way we approach knowledge, and build the demand and the political will to provide them widely, whether through commercial companies in the private sector or through efforts funded by the public sector. We want to make sure that the future is visible to citizens, so they will understand and support new initiatives. We do this proactively--it's too important for the future of education in this country not to have access to these technology tools. We can't abandon rural America to 19th- and 20th- century technology.

Providing services in whatever ways we can now is helpful, but maintaining the future vision is critical. Day to day, it's easy for local leaders to lose sight of what an interconnected, networked world could mean for their constituents. An important part of my job is to keep reminding our community just how transformative new broadband technologies are.

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