Broadband: Just like starting over

Published 7:18 pm Saturday, December 1, 2012

Broadband service remains elusive for the majority of Washington Parish residents, but a state grant may finally begin the long-awaited process of wiring up the community.

Information Technologies Director Dempsey Parden said the parish has employed Radio Communications Services of Crowley to perform a feasibility study regarding broadband. Excluding small pockets exclusive to the municipal areas, most parish residents must rely on the antiquated dialup modem or satellite for their Internet service.

“This feasibility study will give us the ammunition we need to promote our parish to vendors, to service providers, to bring them in,” Parden said. “It will give us a better idea of where we will need to put towers to better cover the parish.

“Also, the study will provide a cost analysis for a vendor coming in.”

Parden said the study, which is being administered through the state and paid for with federal funds, will identify whether it’s commercially advantageous for a broadband provider to move into the parish. He said if the study determines that is the case, then the parish can utilize the data to present to and recruit potential vendors.

“If it’s not (commercially viable) we can use it for our basis to apply for grants from the federal government,” he added. “I know it seems kind of ridiculous we would be doing a broadband study because everybody knows we want it, but it’s a step we have to take to put ourselves in better position to get it for the citizens of Washington Parish.”

Parden said RCS is currently providing Internet service to about 250 parish customers but added the company was the lowest bidder for the study. He emphasized the company currently receives no money from the parish.

“We want to see what the cost is and see what the market is,” Councilman Chuck Nassauer said. “How many people are interested? See if enough people are interested out there to make this investment in the parish.

“In order to establish the cost of the system you need to know what system they are putting in.”

According to Parden, the study will focus on using radio frequency to provide broadband service. He said the system would operate on a 900 MHZ frequency and operate by placing a radio on a tower that will cover a certain area.

Another radio is placed at a place of business or home, and “those two radios talk to each other and provide you a very high quality broadband connection,” he said.

One of the goals of the study is to determine how many towers would be required to provide the entire parish with service.

He said radio frequency is rapidly replacing satellite Internet service because of its reliability and quality.

According to Parden, running fiber optic lines in the parish is cost prohibitive. He said many of the broadband grants available are for installation of fiber optic systems, but those grants would not come close to covering the eventual cost to the parish.

“If I were to try to bring fiber or copper to every residence it would cost up to $100 million to $150 million for Washington Parish,” he said. “That’s why we’re looking at radio frequency. It won’t be the same as if you were in downtown Covington, but it will be a heck of a lot better than what we have now, which is dialup or satellite.”

Parden said he is hopeful the study will reveal the parish is commercially viable for broadband, which will encourage other companies to offer the service. However, he admits to his own doubts regarding a flux of providers moving into the parish.

“If it does, we can use this study to shop out for other vendors to get some more competition in here,” he said. “To be honest with you, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

“I worked for two years, and (RCS) was pretty much the only vendor we could get in there to spend money. We had promises and a lot of smoke blown in certain areas, but none of it worked out to be money spent.”

The cost of the study is $100,000, with the grant covering 80 percent and RCS covering the rest. Parden said the parish will spend no money for the study.

The contract calls for a completion date of May 31, but Parden said he is hopeful it will be completed by the end of the year. �