Louisiana is trying to get reliable internet into every home. Here are some of the obstacles.

Louisiana is in the midst of a five-year, more than a billion-dollar campaign to get reliable, high-speed Internet access in every home, but several state lawmakers say some companies are putting up roadblocks.

There are significant gaps when it comes to mobility and coverage in Louisiana, said Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of ConnectLA, the state broadband office.

On June 26, the federal government awarded Louisiana $1.36 billion to fill these gaps, the eighth-largest endowment in the country. Iyengar said the funds have a deadline.

It’s a five-year stopwatch, he said. We have to put in the effort and spend the money, and the work has to get done.

In 2021, Louisiana received $177 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which aimed to increase spending on broadband infrastructure. The state created the Granting Underserved Municipalities Opportunities Act (GUMBO), in which businesses could bid for broadband opportunities.

But in some cases, providers have questioned whether areas really lack services. That delayed the process, said Rep. Daryl Deshotel, author of the GUMBO grant act.

What they were trying to do is just hold off areas for as long as possible, to prevent anyone else from entering, he said.

The suppliers who protested ranged from large corporations to small local businesses.

One company has appealed to 50 projects across the state, said Assemblyman Jeremy LaCombe, representing many of the rural areas the program is trying to help. They’re blocking projects that would have brought fiber to thousands of homes, because they went and resisted. I feel like the disingenuous companies just objected to everything.

broadband 083122

Community and church groups gathered on Wednesday 31 August 2022 to protest challenges launched by telecom companies against the winners of bids to expand the internet into rural areas.

A 2022 LSU survey found that approximately 75% of Louisianans have access to broadband in their homes. But as anyone without coverage knows, that 25% is critical.

Internet access became more necessary during COVID-19 as people relied on Internet access for work, school, and telehealth.

At a March event celebrating expanded access to AT&T broadband, Governor John Bel Edwards said significant progress has been made, but lack of access is still a problem for rural households.

If you have to take your child to McDonalds to get internet to do homework, there’s something wrong with that photo, she said, adding that driving to a McDonalds or other internet access point isn’t even an option for many rural families.

A new strategy

Now, with the new $1.36 billion investment, the state has created GUMBO 2.0, with provisions it hopes will prevent corporate slowdowns.

We’re learning every year as we administer these funds what works and what doesn’t work, Iyengar said.

This time, the state will have a 90-day challenge process before each grant round, where Internet service providers can challenge positions. Additionally, the federal government has created a map that Deshotel says is more accurate than the original.

Businesses will have to present challenges to the map at the address level, which a third party will judge.

With this new process, we shouldn’t have these protests in the future, Deshotel said.

Looking at the map, it’s easy to spot areas of central and northern Louisiana where up to 40 percent of the population lacks Internet access. Compared to areas in the Northeast and Midwest, Louisiana glows red, and according to BroadbandNow, which compares Internet access and service providers, Louisiana ranks 46th in the United States in terms of Internet coverage, speed, and availability.

Internet providers have historically seen less incentive to invest in less populated areas, but Deshotel said Internet access is vital to economic development across Louisiana.

I think this is a unique generational opportunity, he said. We, the legislator, I believe, had a job to make sure we didn’t miss out on this opportunity. We have to make sure that everyone who needs assistance gets assistance. It is very important that we administer these programs.


Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on the expansion of broadband Internet in rural areas on Monday, March 21, 2022 at the Sunset Community Center in Sunset, La.

In early July, Governor Edwards celebrated the grand opening of GUMBO’s largest investment to date, a project that will bring wired Internet to 9,140 households and 535 small businesses in Avoyelles Parish. About $9.7 million will be funded through the federal grant, while Swfyt Telecom, the cable Internet service provider that is completing the work, will provide another $10 million.

Once broadband is available in a community, the government is working with households to increase accessibility.

Through the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, eligible households can receive a benefit of up to $30 a month on up to $75 on tribal lands to reduce the cost of broadband service. About 904,200 Louisiana households are eligible for the ACP, but only 461,200 have enrolled, according to Edwards’ office.

We’re trying to solve not 90% of the problem, but 100%, Iyengar said. This means making sure you get universal coverage throughout Louisiana. It’s not a question of whether anyone will ever get the internet, it’s when.

#Louisiana #reliable #internet #home #obstacles
Image Source : www.theadvocate.com

Leave a Comment