The Natchitoches Parish School Board held a meeting with representatives from the City, Parish Government, EpicTouch, and the Natchitoches Regional Medical Center; grant writers for the school district, Real Estate Agent Janice Bolton; Senator Louie Bernard, and Gerald Long to discuss the School Board’s project to install fiber cable throughout Natchitoches Parish in an effort to bring high speed internet access to students. The decision was voted on and approved at the July 8 meeting.
The school board was surprised to learn how few of its students had adequate internet access when it achieved the 1:1 student ratio for iPads as part of its curriculum advancement.
Bernard called this a “real slap in the face of the parish” that adequate internet access is still such a huge need.
Even the hospital is looking forward to its patients having adequate internet access so it can offer telehealth.
The bid with Epic Touch is $7,980,000. Of the total amount, the district has $1.2 of it dedicated out of ESSER 2 funds. The roughly $6.8 million still needed to fund the project has gone out for ESSER 3 funding and the district will have an answer back on that from LDOE soon.
The $7.98 million price tag is for 95 percent of the parish to be lit up with broadband internet.
Also, if the district allots the total amount for this project from ESSER 2 and 3 funding there’s a high likelihood that it won’t all be used because the district has already gone after a $1 million grant for broadband. The district was told there would probably be a high number of these kinds of grants coming up in the future, which Long and Bernard both spoke to.
This means that it’s more likely that the district will have multiple sources of funding for broadband installation.
The first key to the success of this program is to secure the fiber optic wire and this needs to be done as soon as possible. The district is working with the $1.2 million it’s already dedicated to the project to secure the fiber optic wire so EpicTouch can put it in their warehouse. This amount would secure enough wire to do the entire parish. Major warehouses across the country are all running short on fiber.
The work will start with the smaller communities out in the parish that are “dark” in terms of internet access, but will eventually make its way into the City. The idea is to install fiber to residences that don’t have it and upgrade residences with copper lines to fiber.
EpicTouch hopes to start work on Phase 1 of the project in October. A list of the streets that will be worked on first should be available soon. EpicTouch’s goal is to expand beyond Phase 1 to achieve 100% access to high speed internet for all Parish residents. Ownership of the fiber optic transmission lines will stay in the hands of EpicTouch.
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