Broadband access for all Louisiana residents “…can be a game changer for average people,” former State Sen. Gerald Long told a group of stakeholders Thursday at the Bossier Parish Courthouse.
Long, a three-term Senator from Dist. 31, is working in conjunction with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy to inform leaders in local civic, service and government agencies about the importance of delivering Internet access to all areas of the state.
Of particular interest, Long said, is the rural areas where only a small percentage of users have access to high-speed, reliable service. For example, Long said a study shows 35 percent of students in Sabine Parish have no Internet in their homes.
In Louisiana, more than $342 million has been allocated to expand high-speed broadband to unserved homes and businesses over the next 10 years. Those funds are the result of a Federal Communications Commission Rural Digital Opportunity Fund phase 1 auction.
In Bossier Parish, more than $5.8 million was directed to five bidders and will serve 2,769 residences and businesses, according to figures released by the FCC.
Long said five areas that would benefit most from broadband availability include public education, telemedicine, economic development, rural hospitals and public safety.
Putting together a broadband study commission consisting of key players from the ranks of government, private enterprise, education and economic development organizations should be a priority, he said.
When the news of the auction results were first reported last year, Bossier Parish Administrator Bill Altimus, who is a member of the governor’s Broadband for Everyone in Louisiana Commission, said the FCC auction opened the door to money that isn’t always available in local government budgets.
“This supplements what we are trying to do locally, and helps subsidize our efforts here to deliver high speed connectivity to rural residents,” he said.
Bossier Parish Police Jury member Jack “Bump” Skaggs, who serves as President/CEO of the Coordinating and Development Corporation, said the CDC is ready to assist in any way.
“This (broadband access) is a shiny new toy and no one has directions yet,” he said. “We want to take the appropriate planning steps to ensure everyone has access to reliable service. As Sen. Long said, this can be a game changer.”