Alaska’s rural schools are poised to receive a significant boost in internet connectivity next year, following the state legislature’s approval of a bill designed to increase access to faster internet speeds. This legislative move comes despite the governor’s earlier veto of a comprehensive education bill. With a looming deadline for federal funding grants, lawmakers acted swiftly to pass House Bill 193, enabling rural schools to qualify for federal grants aimed at upgrading their internet speeds to up to 100 megabits per second, a fourfold increase over current limits.

Senate President Gary Stevens highlighted the urgency of the bill, citing widespread complaints from schools about the inadequate internet speeds and the challenges it poses to teaching and learning. The bill, which now awaits Governor Mike Dunleavy’s signature, saw substantial support in the legislature, passing the Senate with an overwhelming majority.

The legislation allows for flexibility in how schools can achieve these upgraded speeds, including the option to choose any provider and the potential use of satellite services. This aspect was particularly important to some senators, who emphasized the importance of not limiting schools to specific technologies like fiber optics. Despite some opposition and proposed amendments to expand the bill’s scope, the core objective of enhancing internet connectivity for rural schools remained unchanged.

Advocates from the telecommunications industry and educational leaders have lauded the bill’s passage, predicting it will dramatically improve the educational experience for students in rural areas. With options like the satellite service Starlink being considered by some districts, there is optimism that the new legislation will offer more than just improved internet speeds, potentially leading to significant cost savings and more efficient educational delivery.

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