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EAST students to compete for seed money in project.

EAST high school students are competing for up to $10,000 to seed their own business plans addressing broadband access issues in rural Arkansas, according to EAST national program director Matt Dozier.

The competition is the final stage of the technology education program's ongoing rural broadband project, a collaborative effort between EAST and the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority, made possible through a $150,000 grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

Students began the project by surveying households and businesses for broadband access throughout six south Arkansas counties: Little River, Howard, Drew, Ashley, Bradley and Lincoln. The data from those surveys were then tied into a geographical information system (GIS) that provides a more detailed look at Internet access across those counties.

Under current Federal Communications Commission standards, a Zip code with as little as one broadband access point is designated as having broadband access, though coverage of that area is hardly ubiquitous.

Even with those standards in place, the FCC's most recent bi-annual report on high-speed services for Internet access showed that, while connections across the country increased by 26 percent in the first half of 2006, the percentage of households in Arkansas with either DSL or cable Internet is below the national average.

The students could end up launching their own telecommunications companies, Dozier said. But even if they don't, he said, broadband providers operating in the areas covered by the project may find the data and maps useful in seeing a clearer picture of potential customer needs

The business plan competition is modeled on Arkansas Capital Corporation Group's Donald Reynolds Governor's Cup for Entrepreneurial Development. First-, second- and third-place winners will be announced during the eighth annual EAST Partnership Con-ference to be held Feb. 27 through March 1 at the Hot Springs Convention Center & Summit Arena.
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Author:Gordon, James
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 19, 2007
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