Connect LA aims to eliminate digital divide
Published 6:27 pm Thursday, November 11, 2021
Executive Director of the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity (Connect LA) Veneeth Iyengar held a special meeting with local leaders at the Vernon Parish School Board Office on Nov. 3 to explain their goals to expand broadband access to unserved residents across the state.
A hard lesson learned during the pandemic was that many people do not have adequate internet service to meet the daily needs of modern life. Residents expressed their concerns and frustrations with lackluster download speeds and apathetic responses from their internet providers.
Many people were forced to work from home, and students were forced to learn remotely, as well. Inadequate internet connectivity was a burden on many residents who were ultimately powerless to fix the problem caused by this digital divide.
“Everyone has a personal or professional impact thanks to the pandemic,” Iyengar said. “Our office is designed to coordinate federal state and local efforts to eliminate the digital divide in Louisiana.”
One of the ways that Connect LA plans to do this is utilize the funds from the GUMBO — Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities — grant program. The GUMBO grant program allocates $177 million from the state to fund projects through a grant application process that opened on Nov. 1 and will close Dec. 31.
Our program is designed to help the private sector and co-ops build in areas that are unserved. So that those areas are now served with areas of high speed internet. Unserved areas are defined as areas that have download speeds less than 25 mbps and upload speeds less than 3 mbps, which is the speed of broadband.
It is estimated that 472,000 people across the state do not have broadband speeds. Locally it is estimated that 21,300 residents in Vernon Parish are unserved and have unsatisfactory internet speeds.
Iyengar said now that more people are online in both personal and professional capacities. He said the pandemic showcased this over the past year just how badly these low internet speeds affected the average person.
“Before the pandemic, that might have been OK,” said Iyengar. “Coming out of the pandemic, that is not OK.”
The goal is to eliminate the digital divide and start construction on important internet infrastructure in 2022.
“We are investing in technology that gets broadband into the household,” Iyengar said.
When asked what the public can do to help Connect LA, Iyengar said the best thing the public can do is to log on to the Connect LA website and to regularly check the internet speeds at their home or business. That data helps Connect LA understand just how unserved the homes in Beauregard Parish are.
“It is important for us to understand the needs of your internet at a household level. The more data we get the better it’s going to be,” Iyengar said.
It is the goal of Connect LA to completely eliminate the digital divide by 2029. For more information about Connect LA’s efforts to eliminate the digital divide, visit www.connect.la.gov.