Louisiana Legislation Seeks to Invest $180M for Rural Access to Broadband Internet

Over the next three years, the state of Louisiana will award $180 million in grants to various telecommunication firms so that broadband internet infrastructure can be constructed in the state’s more underserved communities, as per an article fromThe Advocate.

The average American’s reliance on broadband services became very apparent during the state’s stay-at-home orders due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many families were becoming more and more aware of the need for fast, reliable internet speeds so that families could stream movies, parents could work remotely, and students could learn from home.

The extended period of isolation left many examining their internet usage, but the time also shined a light on those rural Louisiana communities that have been “underserved” by internet service providers. Such was the case for the citizens of Ville Platte, Louisiana.  During the pandemic citizens of the Evangeline Parish community often flocked to the parking lots of City Hall or McDonald’s in order to use their hotspot internet services.

Louisiana’s more rural cities often see the disparity in reliable internet services since residents are more widely dispersed across the area and internet providers often feel disincentivized to spend the funds necessary to install fiber cables in these areas. According to a study conducted last year by HighSpeedInternet.com, the average internet speed for a resident of Ville Platte registers at just above 8 Mbps. That slow measurement places the city in the bottom five cities nationwide for internet connectivity.

However, Louisiana Rep. Daryl Deshotel plans to change that in the next three years with his proposed piece of legislation that is expected to be approved by Governor John Bel Edwards in the coming weeks. The proposed projectwill reportedly use funds from the American Rescue Plan to bring the infrastructure for high-speed internet to Louisiana’s more rural areas. It will be required that at least 20% of funds will be provided by the regional telecommunication firms who will also provide high-speed internet at affordable prices to residents for at least five years.  It is also expected that the trillion-dollar federal infrastructure plan currently passing through Washington will also serve to distribute additional grants in the future.

The grant program will require internet service providers to offer at least 25 Mbps, which is a speed set by the federal government as a minimum broadband benchmark. With this measurement of internet speed, a family of four would be able to browse the internet and stream movies simultaneously.

Veneeth Iyengar will fund the new grant program as the Executive Director for Governor Edwards’ Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, and he estimates that it would take a total $1.1 billion investment to bring high-speed internet to every household in Louisiana. The currently proposed $180 million will connect up to 145,000 households and according to Iyenthe, the grant program will “run at an accelerated pace” and distribute up to $90 million in grants by January 2022.

It’s expected that this ambitious, but necessary effort will be aided by an additional $372 million that was awarded to service providers last year by the federal government in an aim to extend broadband coverage to 175,000 households and businesses over the next decade.

The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimated recently that 1.6 Louisiana citizens covering 643,000 households are without access to high-speed internet, and nearly half of the state’s total households lack access to internet service that is affordable. As of June 2021, nearly 88,000 residents still benefited from the emergency assistance funds offered by the FCC to cover internet costs during the pandemic.

While it can’t be overstated how vital the need for speedy, dependable internet service is these days, it’s a comfort to know that meaningful strides are being taken to lessen the gaps in broadband service.

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