Louisiana Governor, John Bel Edwards, announced that over the course of the next 18-24 months, over $35 million will be distributed in order to bring affordable high-speed internet to nearly 15,000 locations, according to this article from The Houma Times. The goal is to close the digital gaps seen in many areas throughout the state.
The announcement was made as the Louisiana Governor was joined by federal, state, and locally elected officials and community leaders at the state’s inaugural Broadband Solutions Summit. This was where it was also announced by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), that Louisiana is the first state in the nation to have received two grant awards funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a law that will help to expand internet service statewide in order to close digital gaps. The two grants were a State Digital Equity Planning Grant for $941,542.28 and a Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program planning grant for $2,000,000.
It was also announced that two new parishes, Vernon and LaSalle Parish, will also be impacted by this second wave of awards that have been provided through Louisiana’s broadband program, Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities, or GUMBO.
Earlier this year in July, Governor John Bel Edwards announced the first wave of GUMBO awards as a result of the American Rescue Plan’s $130 million investment to provide broadband access to more than 66,000 households and small businesses through Internet Service Providers in 50 parishes. Governor Edwards commented on this additional opportunity to the July 2019 announcement by saying, “in 2019, we set a goal to close Louisiana’s digital divide by 2029, and this announcement is another step in the right direction.”
He continued, “I am so grateful for the progress we are making, thanks to the help from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Some of us take access to broadband for granted, but there are still many people who do not have reliable or affordable connections, especially in the rural parts of our state. If we can connect those communities, we will improve health outcomes, grow our economy, increase access to educational opportunities, and enhance the quality of life for so many people.”
Veneeth Iyengar, the Executive Director of ConnectLa, commented on this second round of awarded funds by saying, “we are grateful that NTIA has quickly approved our plans to draw down the first funds in the country for BEAD and Digital Equity to develop not only the 1st 5-year strategic plan for the state but also the first digital equity plan. “The approach we are going to take to address access, affordability, literacy, and the lack of devices will be highly innovative and move Louisiana’s economy forward.”
These GUMBO awards highlight the groundwork originally begun by Gov. Edwards in 2019 when the Governor signed an executive order that created the Broadband for Everyone Louisiana Commission. This Commission was created with the goal of eliminating the digital gaps in the state of Louisiana by 2029. Then, in 2020, Gov. Edwards created ConnectLA’s Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, which is led by Executive Director Veneeth Iyengar,who called the establishing of ConnectLA the culmination of all “the hard work that our stakeholders (teacher, parents, small business owners, public safety, parish officials etc.) have given towards addressing the digital divide. These investments will not only address the access issues but will create hundreds and thousands of good paying jobs that will impact people’s trajectory in their communities.”
Additionally, in order to address the estimated 462,000 Louisiana citizens who lack basic digital literacy skills, ConnectLA partnered with the Louisiana Board of Regents, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the State Library of Louisiana, in order to establish pilot programs in multiple parishes to reduce the digital literacy rate by 50%.
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