Louisiana lawmakers want greater internet access for the state

Olivia and Bridgett Deleon work on virtual classes on a laptop. (Photo courtesy Spencer Deleon)

Before their special session ended, the Louisiana Legislature approved measures that will create an office of broadband connectivity and “to connect as many Louisianans as possible and close the digital divide.”

Rep. Daryl Deshotel’s House Bill 74 would create the office of broadband and connectivity. The office would be required to report to the governor and various committees. 

“I was kind of surprised that we did not have a state effort or state centralized place that would have information about broadband and the industry,” Deshotel,  R-Avoyelles said when he explained House Bill 74 on Oct. 6. “It’s important that we have a centralized location in our state that can look at different grants, look at different federal opportunities, look at different local opportunities and to be able to help out our local communities.”

A lack of rural internet connection in Louisiana has been an ongoing issue in the state, and the problem became more noticeable when schools were shut down during the pandemic and more families were forced to resort to online learning. In all, there are 403,000 Louisiana households (about 25 percent of the state’s total number of househodls) with no kind of internet connection according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Forty-two percent of households have no broadband connection.

The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate and has been sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk.

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, introduced House Concurrent Resolution 19 to create a task force to make recommendations on the 4.9 GHz Spectrum “to connect as many Louisianans as possible and close the digital divide.”

“I know that each of you know that Louisiana is more in need of fast, reliable internet than ever before,” Johnson said at a Senate Commerce Committee meeting Oct. 14. He said the recent hurricanes and transition to online schooling have made high speed internet more necessary for Louisianans.

Eric Peterson, the director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at the Pelican Institute, said the idea of this resolution is that the task force would study the issue, make recommendations to the legislature and suggest a process to get more Louisianans connected.