Southeast Arkansas College's Arkansas Research & Education Optical Network (AREON) was recently erected on 18th Avenue near SEARK's Workforce Development Center.

Southeast Arkansas College’s Arkansas Research & Education Optical Network (AREON) was recently erected on 18th Avenue near SEARK’s Workforce Development Center.

The network is part of a project expand Internet capability to two-year colleges. The program is funded by a grant to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in partnership with the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges (AATYC).

“This grant provides Arkansas two-year colleges with high-speed Internet access that most other states don’t have,” said Ed Franklin, executive director of AATYC, said in a news release. “This increases our capacity to deliver educational services to students and to improve our collaboration with business and industry partners.”

The grant expands the network to the 22 public two-year colleges in the state. It is funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The network will improve the colleges’ ability to deliver distance learning. Two-year colleges will also have new opportunities to collaborate to expand course and program offerings by sharing curriculum and other resources that benefit students.

To manage fiber construction and connectivity at the two-year colleges, UAMS will grant a subaward to AREON, the state’s only publicly owned fiber optic network currently serving four-year universities. Spending from the grant will include $41.2 million for equipment and construction of fiber optic network routes to serve community colleges. The project is expected to be completed in three years.