Broadband bill stalls in Louisiana House committee

    BRIEF

    A bill that could potentially increase the number of Louisianians who have access to high-speed internet was deferred Tuesday by its sponsor, Rep. Rodney Schamerhorn — R, Hornbeck, after some lawmakers on the Louisiana House Committee on Commerce expressed concern about an amendment from Shamherhorn that they said wouldn’t provide sufficient oversight.

    Schamerhor proposes to expand access to broadband internet by allowing parishes and municipalities to enter into public-private partnerships. His amendment adds that “any broadband or high-speed data transmission authority” that comes about because of the law would “not be subject to the Local Government Fair Competition Act.”

    Michael Hebert, a Lafayette attorney who testified in support of the bill, said subjecting broadband deals to the Local Government Fair Competition Act would require feasibility studies, elections and periodic audits from the Public Service Commission and “significantly slow the deployment of broadband” throughout the state. 

    Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-Baton Rouge) said he doesn’t agree that getting rid of oversight will make the process better, and the legislature should look to balance “making sure that you’re doing things correctly versus just doing fast.”

    “It seems it would take away some oversight you would have if (broadband deals are) not going to be subject to audits from the (Public Service Commission),” Jordan said.

    Rep. Kenny Cox (D-Natchitoches) echoed support of the bill, but he also raised concerns about oversight.  “Somebody’s got to be watching the chicks in the hen house.”

    Schamerhorn plans to bring the bill back to the commerce committee next week.

    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 households) without any kind of internet connection, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Forty-two percent of households have no broadband connection.