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High-speed internet funding helps bridge Louisiana’s digital divide – American Press

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High-speed internet funding helps bridge Louisiana’s digital divide

Posted 3:36 p.m. on Sunday, September 11, 2022

Louisiana came out on top. It was the first state to receive broadband funding from the Infrastructure, Investment and Employment Act (IIJA) enacted last year.

US senator. Bill Cassidy, R-La., worked with a group of 10 senators, five Republicans and five Democrats, who helped craft the bill.

The $2,941,542.28 grant is for the deployment and adoption of affordable and reliable high-speed Internet across the state, the first of more than $1 billion expected to be allocated to Louisiana over the next five years.

What does this mean for Southwest Louisiana, and specifically when can viewers in unserved and underserved communities expect to stream their favorite programs buffer-free?

Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of Broadband Development and Connectivity, is confident that sufficient funding is in place to enable 1.5 million Louisiana residential and business addresses to have high-speed Internet access by 2029 or sooner. . Two caveats exist.

“There are three big buckets of money through three different federal agencies largely focused on the same problem,” he said.

In fall 2020, the Federal Communications Commission awarded $342 million to 13 private internet service providers in 175,692 locations through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. A location is defined as the address of a household or small business.

“We have no control over these expenses,” Iyengar stressed. “Our office administers the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broad Band Opportunities (GUMBO) grant program. This money is $176 million and comes from the US Treasury Department. “We expect to impact around 88,000 locations with this money.”

GUMBO has been made available to Internet service providers and electricity cooperatives. These companies must build within seven to 24 months, depending on the agreements signed, and some will build in multiple locations.

“They have until September 30, then the clock starts turning,” Iyengar said.

GUMBO awards went to Cable South/Swift Fiber and Cable South to Allen Parish; AT&T and CSC Holdings in Beauregard Parish; At&T, Brightspeed and AOP in the parish of Calcasieu; AOP in the parish of Jeff Davis.

According to their website, Brightspeed will take over CenturyLink’s phone and internet business in 20 states. AOP is ahead of the game and last month announced its work in Lake Charles in the American press.

“For us to tap into the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we need to submit an initial proposal and five-year plan to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the US Department of Commerce,” Iyengar said.

Access is only part of the plan to bridge the state’s digital divide. Affordability, literacy and getting devices on site are other goals.

Iyengar and his team organized stakeholder meetings across the state in villages as well as major metropolitan areas. He says the outcome, to some extent, will rest on the shoulders of communities and especially community stakeholders such as government and public safety officials who show up at these meetings and agree to do what they can to ease the way to business. Community members can help identify pockets of unserved and underserved communities. “In three or four weeks we have a meeting scheduled in the parish of Beauregard,” he said.

Everything seems to be fine except for two caveats noted by Iyengar. New funding funds/services/programs cannot be used in areas already receiving federal broadband funds – maps released later this year will specify these locations – and there is a protest process in place for current companies.

Current broadband internet providers are blocking 19 grants, totaling $86.6 million, and there’s no timeline for resolving the protests, which hinge on whether the areas applicants say they want to serve are already served, according to an Aug. 29 Business Report article. by David Jacobs. This is why the maps are being developed.

A trained workforce is also a challenge, but plans are in place for that. Michelle McInnis, senior vice president of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Alliance, said the alliance has been meeting with vendors in the region to try to help with the workforce, another part of the challenge of rolling out the program in the areas most needed as soon as possible.

“We will be asking training providers in our region to come up with a training program for the technicians and installers that will be needed, as well as the initial contractors who will actually perform the labor-intensive heavy equipment operations. and underground facility,” McInnis said.

According to the FCC, the definition of high-speed Internet is a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speed. Broadband provides high-speed Internet access through multiple layers of technologies, including fiber optic, wireless, cable, and DSL satellite.

Stakeholders, such as government entities, ISPs, school boards or private companies who wish to partner with the office on issues of access, affordability and digital literacy, can contact ConnectLa at connect @la.gov or call 225-219-7594.