VILLE PLATTE, La. (BRPROUD) — As the use of technology grows, so does the digital divide for parts of underserved Louisiana communities.

Police Jury President Bryan Vidrine said the people of Evangeline Parish have been trying to keep their heads above the water even before COVID-19 as the need for the internet continues to increase.

“We were like the sixth-worst broadband in the United States. We have some areas that are underserved, which by definition is under 25 megabits per second. We also have areas that have zero service. Like the only way they get services is through hotspots and phones,” he explained.

The reach to online resources or even entertainment has been limited. Opportunities for broadband expansion became available through federal funding. The Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) program, also known as the GUMBO grant, is on the way to making dreams of connectivity a reality.

“It’s going to be a game-changer for them to be able to actually have a better quality of life,” said Vidrine.

The GUMBO Fund was authored by Representative Daryl Deshotel (R) and passed during the 2021 Regular Legislative Session.

“I looked at this, this is possibly the largest economic development opportunity in our state,” he said.

He said the GUMBO program will help bridge the digital gap between areas like these across the state.

“We’re thinking about telemedicine, you know, distance learning, running these businesses from home, there’s so many opportunities for our citizens, but it starts with broadband infrastructure,” Deshotel explained.

So far 58 parishes across the states plan to partner with providers to put fiber into the ground. Twenty-three providers have signed up to be a part of this plan.

“It was over $400 million of requested application, and this is just round one. Hopefully, we’ll start to see some construction here in the first quarter of this year,” said Deshotel.

Deshotel said they’ve already been approved for more funding from the recently passed infrastructure bill. The second round of applications will start in July.