An initiative designed to bring broadband Internet access to rural Oklahoma communities is complete, state officials announced Tuesday.
The Oklahoma Community Anchor Network, or OCAN, brings broadband access to 33 so-called community anchors in rural towns statewide. The program comes on line Aug. 1.
The project is a joint venture by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education's OneNet division, which serves as the state's telecommunications network for government and education.
The project is funded through a $74 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration as a part of the agency's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.
OneNet Director Von Royal said the project has the potential to affect not only people living in Oklahoma today, but also future generations. The three-year project represented a “huge” collaborative effort among several state agencies, Royal said.
The 33 community anchors the project serves include state and tribal colleges and universities, hospitals and CareerTech centers. Once the program goes on line, officials hope to partner with local telecommunications companies, who would use the network to offer broadband service to people living in rural areas that hadn't had high-speed Internet access before.
Oklahoma Department of Libraries Director Susan McVey said the program will benefit public libraries in rural communities and the patrons that use them. In many cases, rural libraries couldn't offer broadband access even if they had the funding to do so. High-speed Internet service simply wasn't available in those areas, she said.
Some communities already are reaping benefits from the program, McVey said. In Pryor, a group of teachers and principals signed up to pursue advanced college degrees online using the service, she said.
Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, said she thinks the program will benefit rural Oklahomans economically. In speaking with residents of rural communities, Denney said she's heard many Oklahomans say that access to high-speed Internet was essential to allowing those areas to succeed.
Broadband access also will allow rural hospitals to offer telemedicine, which would allow doctors to reach patients they may not have been able to serve otherwise, Denney said.
“It's a great day in Oklahoma,” she said. “But we can't stop here or rest on our laurels.”
Oklahoma higher education Chancellor Glen Johnson said the program brings educational resources to students in rural parts of the state. Students at K-12 school districts and in colleges and universities will be able to complete work more quickly, he said.
Those students also will be better prepared to enter the state's workforce, where digital literacy is expected, Johnson said.