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Louisiana aims to bridge digital divide by 2029

Applications being accepted for GUMBO grants to help bring broadband to unserved areas of the state
By forcing people to attend school and work remotely, the COVID-19 pandemic starkly highlighted...
By forcing people to attend school and work remotely, the COVID-19 pandemic starkly highlighted the difference between those who have dependable broadband service and those who do not. (Source: Gray TV photo illustration)
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 3:52 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2021 at 10:28 PM CST
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BENTON, La. (KSLA) — Louisiana’s goal is to have broadband service in all unserved areas of the state by 2029.

To help bridge the digital divide, applications for Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) grants are being accepted until Dec. 31. That program is designed to help private providers bring more accessible and affordable broadband service to areas that have download speeds of less than 25 Mbps and upload speeds lower than 3 Mbps.

Nearly 8,000 residents of Bossier and Bienville parishes are considered unserved, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of ConnectLA, explains the GUMBO grant program to local...
Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of ConnectLA, explains the GUMBO grant program to local leaders during a community meeting Nov. 8 at the Bossier Parish Courthouse in Benton. "Our program is designed to address the access issue that exists in Louisiana," he explained. "There’s a bunch of folks in Louisiana that don’t have broadband. And there’s a bunch of folks in Northwest Louisiana that don’t have broadband."(Source: Destinee Patterson/KSLA News 12)

Haughton Mayor Kim Gaspard said the COVID-19 pandemic made the necessity of fast, dependable internet access abundantly clear. “We saw that with COVID and what happened in Bossier Parish schools, where there was a high percentage of people without internet access at their homes.

“The parish did an admirable job trying to get them coverage,” the mayor added. “But it’s changing times, and people in Bossier Parish in rural areas need the coverage.”

Gaspard was among local leaders who attended a community meeting that the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity held Monday morning at the Bossier Parish Courthouse in Benton. Also invited were state legislators, congressional staff members, parish and municipal leaders, school board members, economic developers and representatives of the healthcare and agriculture industries in Bienville, Bossier, Caddo and DeSoto parishes.

“Our program is designed to address the access issue that exists in Louisiana,” said Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of ConnectLA, as the state broadband office is more commonly known.

“There’s a bunch of folks in Louisiana that don’t have broadband. And there’s a bunch of folks in Northwest Louisiana that don’t have broadband,” he explained. “What we are here to do today in Benton is to talk about our grant program — the state’s first grant program — to address that access issue.”

The ConnectLA team also visited Springhill on Monday, Nov. 8 to explain how the $177 million GUMBO grant program works and how it could benefit Northwest Louisiana municipalities.

Internet service providers should work with local municipalities to submit their grant applications, Iyengar said.

In addition to broadband access and affordability, ConnectLA serves as a resource to local governments throughout Louisiana to help address issues including digital literacy.

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