State leaders held the first broadband solutions summit today at the Hotel Bentley. ABC 31 News’ Joel Massey spoke with the governor and others on the influx of federal money for broadband internet to rural parts of Louisiana. Louisiana will be first in the nation to get the federal money.
Governor John Bel Edwards said, “Typically we think of infrastructure as roads and bridges ports and airports and all of that is important water and sewer that is very important but in 2022 infrastructure is broadband as well.”
Edwards was in Alexandria today to discuss the federal internet for all initiative and how it impacts Louisiana.
“Getting that across to the state of Louisiana to every single address, whether it’s a home or a business is the best was to ensure that Louisiana will be able to compete have the highest quality of life, making sure that we grow our economy, better health outcomes, better education outcomes you name it. We actually got started on this a long time ago before the American Rescue Act was passed or before the bipartisan Infrastructure law was passed.”
The Broadband Equity, Access And Deployment Program provides $42 billion for high speed internet access. The governor said that the first new broadband infrastructure would be coming to rural Louisiana within 24 months. Andy Berke is the special representative for broadband at the us department of commerce. He announced that there would be $3 million coming into the state for planning broadband access, the very first allocation of federal money anywhere.
Berke said, “Wherever I go people tell me that they’re having to make a choice between living in the place that they love and having the job they want in 2022 that isn’t the way it should be in America that’s why the president has this as a goal. And so if you want to live in southwest Louisiana and have a job in the middle of Chicago that’s more possible today than it ever has been.”
State Representative for District 26 Ed Larvadain says it was important to get all kinds of leaders under one roof to talk about the first rollout in the country of the programs.
“Internet providers, we have educators we have business leaders, we have community leaders we have the Louisiana municipal association police jury, elected officials bringing them here to Alexandria means a lot because broadband is vital. If we are going to move this state forward we have to have reliable broadband. So having these individuals here is big. Normally they would go to Baton Rouge or New Orleans I’m delighted that they’re taking the time to and resources to be here.
Senator Bill Cassidy was a part of the 10-person, bipartisan group of senators that authored the infrastructure deal that allocates $65 billion to expand broadband in the U.S.
Cassidy said, “It’s from different pots of money the biggest pot will be from the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the importance of it is when communities bring this in it opens up economic opportunity the ability to create jobs to attract people to move to the community to create a future in which our kids our grandkids decide to stay in our state, in our towns as opposed to move away.”
Cassidy says that the amount of money Louisiana is getting is based on need rather than size.
“Louisiana is eighth best in the nation proportionately in the moneys received for this broadband initiative. Partly it reflects how poor we were to begin with, but we are going to be eighth best.”
State Representative Daryl Deshotel helped author the state legislation to give so called gumbo grants for broadband. There is a second round of that money going out soon.
Deshotel said, “It’s an amazing feeling it’s a lot of work that’s culminated very quickly. Its an awesome feeling to know that we worked extremely hard to get the first round out and we’re about to get our second round out so fast it’s really good.”
Governor Edwards says the program is vitally important for businesses from farmers to healthcare.
“Every small business needs it. If the Internet goes down quite often they can’t accept credit cards whether you’re a restaurant business or whatever you’ve got to have it to be competitive you can’t really promote what you’re offering in the ways of goods and services and products if you don’t have access to the Internet but farmers they can have bigger and better yields by accessing the internet and be more profitable. We know about telehealth and by the way telehealth is more important than ever before. Not just because of the pandemic, obviously we don’t want people traveling to go to the hospital if they don’t have to.”
So in a state that’s used to ranking next to last in things, this time we will be the first.
One of the first things that will happen will be maps of areas of need. That will designate where funding will be allocated. Then contracts will be awarded to internet providers to provide the services.