State officials differ on whether lost $80M grant was really a loss

State officials differ on whether lost $80M grant was really a loss

While Sen. Mary Landrieu was quick to point the finger at the state after the U.S. Department of Commerce on Wednesday rescinded an $80.6 million grant to Louisiana meant to spread broadband Internet to rural parts of the state, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater says the grant would have undermined private businesses.

The grant, which was awarded last year through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, would have enhanced the state's high-speed optical network at schools and libraries in 21 rural parishes and four American Indian reservations. The Commerce Department rescinded the grant because it says the Louisiana Board of Regents—which applied for and received the grant— had an implementation plan that was incomplete and behind schedule. It also says the board was unresponsive when repeatedly asked for additional information.

Landrieu immediately released a statement upon the Commerce Department's decision, saying it was "yet another missed opportunity to improve the lives of Louisiana residents, particularly rural Louisianians who are often left out of such initiatives."

Rainwater, in turn, issued a statement saying, "From the start, we've always said there were implementation and sustainability problems in the grant that had to do with a top-down, government-heavy approach that would compete with and undermine, rather than partner with, the private sector and locals."

Meanwhile, Board of Regents Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell issued a statement Wednesday saying, "Soon after arriving in Louisiana I became aware of some issues and concerns related to this grant, including lack of implementation detail and several design delays. In my capacity, I have worked closely with stakeholders, including the Division of Administration as well as private Internet providers, to prepare an alternative implementation plan that would salvage this project. Unfortunately, despite gaining demonstrated support from both our public and private partners, our approach was rejected."

Both Landrieu and Purcell also say they'll continue working to improve broadband access in the state despite losing the grant.

"If the state of Louisiana is unable to carry out these types of transformative projects across our state, then I will work even harder to partner with interested local officials, nonprofits and businesses to accomplish the same goals," Landrieu says.

"We will continue to look for outreach opportunities in our state's rural communities as well as funding to enhance connectivity to the existing LONI (Louisiana Optical Network Initiative) network to support our statewide goal of increasing targeted research," Purcell says.

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