Students are using their laptops to do schoolwork. (Getty Images)
Even though Louisiana has reportedly about 400,000 to 500,000 households without broadband access, the state official in charge of broadband development said he believes that’s a lowball estimate.
“This is why we have to work with a sense of urgency,” said Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of the Broadband Development and Connectivity Office. “Before the pandemic, that may have been adequate, but suddenly, as we’re still in the pandemic, it’s nowhere near adequate.”
Today, Louisiana has been allocated $342 million by the Federal Communications Commission and another $177 million from the state’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act to address the broadband access issue.
With that money, “it’s safe to say that in the next six years, 70 to 75 percent of the (broadband) access problems” will be resolved, Iyengar told the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Wednesday during a regularly scheduled board meeting.
About 44 percent of Louisianians do not have access to a low cost home high-speed internet subscription, according to the broadband office’s website. About 200,000 Louisiana students haven’t had access to high-speed internet throughout the pandemic.
The FCC allocated the $342 million to 13 companies in Louisiana to provide broadband to 175,692 locations in the state, Iyengar said. Those companies have six years to build broadband infrastructure in those areas.
Iyengar said he’s confident the FCC and those Louisiana companies can finish within that timeline.
“When you start to look at it from a federal level, state level, parish level, city level, town level, village level… I’ll tell you there’s never been any greater alignment on a singular issue like broadband,” Iyengar said.
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Rural towns and villages with less broadband access have been using internet cafes, hotspots and cellular data which all “may or may not be effective,” Iyengar said.
“You’re beginning to see the ingenuity and the resiliency in terms of addressing broadband needs,” he said. “As a short term fix.”
Louisiana’s broadband office began the “Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities” grant program when the Louisiana Legislature unanimously approved it during this year’s legislative session.
Local businesses can apply for those funds starting Nov. 1 until Dec. 30. The broadband office will then review applications — which will take about 60 days, Iyengar said — and construction of broadband infrastructure with state funds can begin around April 2022.
The office’s goal is to get 100 percent of Louisiana households access to broadband and close the digital divide completely by 2029, which Iyengar said will probably cost over $1 billion total.
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