BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards was joined by state lawmakers, locally elected leaders in North Louisiana and Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed to announce a $130 million investment from the American Rescue Plan to bring more affordable and accessible internet to more than 66,000 households and small businesses through Internet Service Providers in 50 parishes. Applications for the first phase of the grant were submitted through Louisiana’s broadband grant program called Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO).
The total investment from the American Rescue Plan is $176 million, out of which today’s announcement of $130 million is being used for this first phase. Parishes not included in this first round will have another opportunity to participate in the program. Visit www.connect.la.gov to see the list of parishes.
Today’s announcement highlights the important groundwork that Gov. Edwards began in 2019 when he signed an executive order creating the Broadband for Everyone Louisiana Commission with the goal of eliminating the digital divide by 2029.
“We learned a great deal from the pandemic about how critical it is to have high-speed internet in Louisiana,” said Gov. Edwards. “With today’s announcement, we are one step closer to reaching our goal of eliminating the digital divide in the next seven years. However, we are not just stopping here. We have another $43 million in funds from the ARP we will award by October, and we are expecting an additional significant amount of federal funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that will be awarded next year to continue to address access, affordability and literacy.”
In 2020, Gov. Edwards created the Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, ConnectLA, led by Executive Director Veneeth Iyengar.
“Today culminates all of the hard work that our stakeholders (teacher, parents, small business owners, public safety, parish officials etc.) have given towards addressing the digital divide,” said Executive Director Iyengar. “These investments will not only address the access issues but will create hundreds and thousands of good paying jobs that will impact people’s trajectory in their communities.”
To address the estimated 462,000 Louisianians who lack basic digital literacy skills, ConnectLA, the Louisiana Board of Regents, the Louisiana Department of Education and the State Library of Louisiana have partnered to establish pilot programs in multiple parishes to reduce the digital illiteracy rate in those parishes by 50 percent over five years. Today, Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Kim Hunter Reed announced the launch of five Digital Literacy & Inclusion Pilot sites embedded in rural and urban library branches. The pilot sites are designed to not only increase access to high-speed digital resources, but also improve the overall computer and internet literacy of individuals living near those library locations. Parishes housing the five Digital Literacy & Inclusion Pilot sites include: East Carroll, Jefferson, Livingston, Rapides and West Feliciana.
Each site is set to receive $20,000 to assess their community’s needs for digital literacy and provide instructional opportunities such as skills assessment, self-directed on-line learning, and digital skill building. These activities will be conducted by a team of 55 professional librarians and staff appointed to serve as Digital Navigators (DNs). DNs for the pilot sites have already completed more than 11 hours of training through the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Northstar Digital Literacy to ensure the successful launch of each program’s activities.
“Erasing Louisiana’s digital divide requires us to pair digital learning opportunities with improved connectivity and affordability,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Kim Hunter Reed. “We are pleased to launch these pilot programs in local libraries supported by local digital navigators because we believe empowering communities is key to strengthening digital literacy.”
Broadband access and affordability are intrinsically linked to better outcomes in education, healthcare, economic development and much more. Federal funds from the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will provide the resources necessary to help Louisiana resolve many of our broadband challenges.
“The last few years have shown us how essential good, high-speed internet is for education,” said State Sen. Katrina Jackson. “Combined with the efforts to better fund all levels of education in the state, this investment will have huge impacts on our learning outcomes.”
“This is a monumental investment in the people of Louisiana,” said State Sen. Gerald Boudreaux. “Because of the great work in Washington, the leadership of the Governor, and the support of the Legislature, more than 66,000 people in the state will now have access to high-speed internet.”
“Today is a great day for Louisiana and the first step toward closing the digital divide that plagues so many of our residents,” said State Rep. Daryl Deshotel. “This would not be possible without Governor Edwards’s bipartisan leadership. He and I have worked closely on bringing broadband connections to every home and business in Louisiana, and I look forward to continuing this close working relationship and celebrating many more successes for the state of Louisiana.”
“I appreciate the Governor for making this announcement in East Carroll Parish,” said State Rep. C. Travis Johnson. “East Carroll Parish is one of the least connected communities in the state. I believe this investment will prove to be vital to our region’s growth.”
“This is a huge win for the people of rural Louisiana,” said State Rep. and Chair of the Legislative Rural Caucus Chris Turner. “From economic development to educational opportunities – this investment will transform our state. I applaud the Governor and my colleagues in the Legislature for this outstanding work.”
For more information visit www.Connect.la.gov.