State pushes for broadband expansion in rural areas

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — In rural parts of Louisiana, broadband services are limited or unreliable. As the digital age continues to progress, expedited by the pandemic, the need for fast and reliable broadband is great.

The GUMBO program would help direct funds to providers to get them to expand their services and lower prices. In parts of northern and central Louisiana, there are only one or two providers. With prices too high for some families and the connection too slow for a whole family, many are going without.

“Structurally as a state, there are challenges around medium household incomes in different parts of the state and a lot of folks fundamentally can’t afford it nor do they understand the value in it,” said Veneeth Iyengar, Executive Director of Broadband and Connectivity.

It is projected that expanding services to rural areas can help boost exposure for small businesses and help people in rural areas have better access to telehealth services.

“Louisiana’s rural small businesses will generate an additional $1.5 billion in revenue. It would create 4,888 jobs and increase payroll by $200 million,” said Iyengar.

Iyengar said as time goes on and these areas continue not to have reliable broadband, it will only cause greater gaps and put people at a disadvantage.

“Quality of life is going to be an issue and so the challenges around your ability to be successful in life both professionally and personally [are] going to be curtailed,” Iyengar said.

The federal government has awarded Louisiana $177 million dollars to expand broadband through the American Rescue Plan. In the 2021 legislative session, $90 was allocated for the first wave of grants. More money will be given in the 2022 session. Starting Nov. 1, providers can apply for grants through the GUMBO program to cover a percentage of the costs. 

“Our focus really is to incentivize those companies who will build their fiber optics to the home itself or some sort of combination of fixed wireless and fiber that will generate substantially greater speeds,” Iyengar said.

The broadband and connectivity office has been traveling around the state to hear what the needs are around broadband. The resounding message is people need to have better internet services they can afford.

Applications for the GUMBO program will close on Dec. 31. 

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