The challenges of bridging the digital divide in NWLA

Bridging Digital Divide

HOMER, LA (KSLA) - Bridging the digital divide for all Americans can be easier said than done in rural areas.

For those who operate the Claiborne Electric Co-Op deploying their own broadband internet service is seen as an investment in the future.

But for those who have to greenlight the $80 million loan — the risks can seem enormous.

Homer Town Councilman Brandon Rich describes a huge need for high-speed internet service.

"Because there's just nothing there," Rich said. "There's nothing there for personal use, for business use, industrial use, it's just not there. The infrastructure is not there."

By day, Rich works as an accountant for Claiborne Electric Co-Op, the very company offering to deploy its own high-speed fiber optic internet service, to help bring in new business.

"That's a fact. All business today requires big data. If you don't have the infrastructure to handle that data then they just won't come here," Rich said..

But it wouldn't come cheap, according to Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell.

"Eighty million! They want to borrow $80 million from the government," Campbell said.

He and his fellow public service commissioners would need to green light that huge loan.

It's about 22-thousand people on the Co-Op members over there. I don't want to saddle them with an 80-million dollar debt if something goes wrong."

To allay concerns, Co-Op CEO Mark Brown explains the project would be done in phases.

"If you get part way into it, you figure out the take rates aren't where they need to be and this thing won't be sustainable if we take on the whole 80-million we could stop anywhere along the way," Brown said.

He told us all they need to break even is 30 percent of their clients to sign up. And he said according to their research, 60 percent have already said they will.

Brown said they hope to have a final answer from the public service commission by sometime in May. From there, he says it could take four months before the first internet clients have their high-speed service.

It would take about 5 years to wrap-up all the phases of this huge project.

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