Gov. Edwards announces $130M investment in state broadband, AT&T in Washington Parish set to get $793K
Published 10:03 am Tuesday, July 26, 2022
On Monday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was joined by state lawmakers, locally elected leaders in North Louisiana and Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed to announce a $130-million investment from the America Rescue Plan (ARP) to bring more affordable and accessible internet to more than 66,000 households and small businesses through Internet Service Providers in 50 parishes.
Applications for the first phase of the grant were submitted through Louisiana’s broadband grant program, called Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO).
According to ConnectLA, the recipient of the grant for Washington Parish is AT&T. AT&T’s expansion project is a total of nearly $2.7 million, and it is receiving $792,500 through the GUMBO program. The expansion is slated to reach 1,781 locations in the parish.
The total investment from the American Rescue Plan is $176 million, out of which Monday’s announcement of $130 million is being used for this first phase. Parishes not included in this first round will have another opportunity to participate in the program. Visit online at www.connect.la.gov to see the complete list of parishes.
Monday’s announcement highlighted the groundwork that Edwards began in 2019, when he signed an executive order creating the Broadband for Everyone Louisiana Commission, with the goal of eliminating the digital divide by 2029.
“We learned a great deal from the pandemic about how critical it is to have high-speed internet in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “With today’s announcement, we are one step closer to reaching our goal of eliminating the digital divide in the next seven years. However, we are not just stopping here. We have another $43 million in funds from the ARP we will award by October, and we are expecting an additional significant amount of federal funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that will be awarded next year to continue to address access, affordability and literacy.”
In 2020, Edwards created the Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, ConnectLA, led by Executive Director Veneeth Iyengar.
“Today culminates all of the hard work that our stakeholders (teacher, parents, small business owners, public safety, parish officials etc.) have given towards addressing the digital divide,” Iyengar said. “These investments will not only address the access issues but will create hundreds and thousands of good paying jobs that will impact people’s trajectory in their communities.”
To address the estimated 462,000 Louisianians who lack basic digital literacy skills, ConnectLA, the Louisiana Board of Regents, the Louisiana Department of Education and the State Library of Louisiana have partnered to establish pilot programs in multiple parishes to reduce the digital illiteracy rate in those parishes by 50 percent over five years. On Monday, Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Kim Hunter Reed announced the launch of five Digital Literacy and Inclusion Pilot sites embedded in rural and urban library branches. The pilot sites are designed to not only increase access to high-speed digital resources, but also improve the overall computer and Internet literacy of individuals living near those library locations. Parishes housing the five Digital Literacy and Inclusion Pilot sites include: East Carroll, Jefferson, Livingston, Rapides and West Feliciana.
Broadband access and affordability are intrinsically linked to better outcomes in education, healthcare, economic development and much more, experts say. Federal funds from the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act should help provide the resources necessary to help Louisiana resolve many of its broadband challenges.
For more information, visit online at www.connect.la.gov.