Veneeth Lyengar, Governor John Bel Edwards’ appointee for Louisiana’s first executive director of broadband development and connectivity, spoke to attendees at a Broadband Commission meeting on Aug. 20 regarding funding options and what is going on at the State level with Broadband.
Covid-19 has accelerated the need for broadband, which feeds right into the need of schools as they’re pivoting to virtual learning.
Attendees included community members, representatives from the state level, from the local hospital and from City and Parish governments.
Once upon a time high speed internet was a luxury, but now it’s a necessity. It’s critical that Parishes are unified in their efforts to close the digital divide by bringing affordable access to high speed internet to every household in the state. Every resident in Natchitoches Parish can help achieve this goal by going online to https://dra.gov/research/broadband-mapping/#speedtest to take a speed test. Data collected will be very important for to get state and federal funding.
The Natchitoches Parish School Board is working with EpicTouch to provide high speed internet to 95% of households throughout the Parish using ESSER 2 and 3 funding while also applying for other grant funding. Their goal is to have this project completed in two years.
Lyengar said the state’s vision, set in 2019, is to eliminate the digital divide in Louisiana by 2029.
There are three things that will need to be tackled simultaneously to achieve this goal:
3. Digital Literacy
Louisiana ranks 18th in the nation when it comes to gigabyte infrastructure. There’s a lot of dark fiber (fiber laid in the ground but not yet activated), which will make the overall cost of connectivity cheaper.
On May 26 the Senate passed House Bill 648 establishing the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) program, which sets aside $180 million in federal funds to provide broadband and internet access to 400,000 households statewide that are lacking basic internet access.
“We need to focus on how we build an internet pipeline that’s 8 lanes instead of 4 lanes,” said Lyengar. “We’re one of the few states in the country with a purposeful broadband office. We have a lot of work to do together, but we’re not far behind.”
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