News from the Alaska State Legislature, the Office of Senator Hoffman
For Immediate Release: April 15, 2018

Senate Expands Access to Virtual Education for Alaska Students

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JUNEAU – The Alaska Senate today passed a bill to boost the minimum Internet speed for Alaska’s K-12 students, expanding access to virtual education across the state.

SB 102, sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee, increases the basic minimum megabit per second (Mbps) requirement from 10 to 25.

“The Legislature has a constitutional responsibility to provide for education in Alaska,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel), co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “With virtual education available throughout the state, students can have access to the best teachers in Alaska.”

The bill directs funding from the higher education fund to increase the amount of Broadband Assistance Grants (BAG) the state can pay to school districts.

Currently, 137 schools, in 29 school districts, receive a BAG award. SB 102 brings 197 schools up to the new megabit floor of 25 Mbps and provides funding to help those schools reach the new floor.

“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.”

SB 102 passed the Senate by a vote of 18 to 1 and is now on its way to the Alaska House of Representatives for consideration.   

For more information, contact Senate Majority Press Secretary Daniel McDonald at (907) 465-4066.

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