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Waiver granted to reimburse Arkansas for school broadband

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission has granted a waiver that will allow Arkansas to seek reimbursement for money spent on school broadband infrastructure, the Arkansas Department of Information Systems announced Friday.

The federal agency had placed a hold on about $36 million in reimbursements over three different school years because of issues with how the Arkansas Department of Information Systems awarded contracts. Department officials said it will be about 90 days before the federal agency decides how much of the money will be reimbursed through the federal E-rate program.

Mark Myers, director of the department, said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke to the federal agency on the state's behalf.

"The governor is acutely aware that without the benefit of funding from the E-rate program, it would be difficult for many of our schools and community libraries to provide basic Internet and telecommunications technologies," Myers wrote in an emailed statement.

The department has been criticized for its broadband infrastructure, the Arkansas Public School Computer Network. The network is a system of fiber and copper cables that provides a small amount of internet access to the state's more than 250 public and charter school districts.

Two different private consultants hired by the state last year suggested ways that Arkansas could improve its broadband offerings to meet national goals for per student internet access and speed. Both consultant studies said the state's network used antiquated infrastructure that provided costly services to schools.

The department said late last week that it had awarded contracts to private internet providers for up to $13 million to make its school network 200 times faster in an attempt to meet the federal goals.

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