Ten companies are seeking a share of $90 million in public funding to help them bring broadband internet access to unserved areas in the Capital Region.
The program is part of an effort to improve access, affordability and usage of high-speed internet in Louisiana, in hopes of promoting economic development and bridging the “digital divide” by 2029, says Veneeth Iyengar with the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development & Creativity.
“Eliminating the digital divide isn’t just a rural issue,” he says.
The $90 million represents the first round of funding out of a total of $177 million in American Rescue Plan dollars. The Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program received applications from 23 companies seeking $440 million in public money to support $711 million in project costs.
Awards will be announced in March with construction starting as early as May. Companies will have a chance to apply for the second round in July.
A much bigger pot of money is expected to be available through the recently passed federal infrastructure bill. Every state will get at least $100 million, and Louisiana could be in line for as much as $1 billion or more to go toward improving access, promoting affordability and improving digital literacy, Iyengar says, all of which will help businesses grow and connect with consumers and workers.
The 10 companies applied for projects in seven Capital Region parishes, none of which is East Baton Rouge. Iyengar says only about 2% of EBR’s population doesn’t have internet available in their area, according to FCC data, though he says that number likely is too low; state officials plan to create their own access map.
The projects are expected to create construction and maintenance jobs over several years. Applicants worked with technical and community colleges to develop workforce plans.
Applications can be viewed at gumbo.la.gov.