A new program that expands rural access to broadband Internet service will benefit Oklahoma schools, hospitals and tribes, Rep. Todd Thomsen said Wednesday.
“With the technology world that we live in, better connectivity will always improve the way people function and are able to utilize the technology,” he said.
State and local officials hailed the completion this week of the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network, which is designed to bring broadband Internet access to rural Oklahoma communities. The project is a joint venture of the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s OneNet division — the state’s telecommunications network for government and education.
The state received a $74 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration for the project.
Several state agencies already operate broadband networks, but the OCAN project brings those agencies together to form a new network that will serve Oklahoma’s rural communities, according to a news release from the Regents.
OCAN’s expanded broadband network covers 1,005 miles and reaches 35 counties, according to the Regents. The network links 33 “community anchors” across the state, including East Central University and the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training in Ada, to the state’s existing networks.
ECU officials were pleased that the college was chosen as a community anchor for the project, which will benefit the college and rural Oklahoma alike, said President John Hargrave.
“We have many students from rural areas,” he said in a comment provided by OneNet. “They should benefit from this enhanced technology, which in turn aids in the pursuit of obtaining a higher education degree.”
After the OCAN network goes online Aug. 1, state officials are hoping to form partnerships with local telecommunications companies to help rural communities. Those companies would use the new network to provide broadband service to rural Oklahomans who haven’t had access to high-speed Internet in the past.
The new network will allow the community anchors to offer videoconferencing and other services, said Von Royal, executive director of OneNet.
“As the technology continues to improve, we will be able to leverage the OCAN network to enhance the services in rural communities,” he said. “It has the potential to change the quality of life for citizens of the state.”
Some libraries were unable to offer high-speed Internet service to their patrons in the past, but that will change with the completion of the OCAN network, said Susan McVey, director of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. She said the network will allow libraries to expand their Internet-based services, including videoconferencing programs, online college courses and job coaching sessions.
“The completion of the OCAN is making that possible with available and affordable broadband connections,” McVey said.
Glen Johnson, chancellor of Oklahoma’s higher education system, said the network will allow colleges and other institutions to keep up with modern technology.
“In today’s knowledge-based world, our students, from kindergarten through higher education, need access to technology that supports and enables their learning,” he said in the Regents news release. “OCAN offers that access, bringing Oklahoma’s rural schools, colleges and universities, libraries and hospitals the technology they need to stay competitive in today’s economy.”