Residents of East Carroll Parish are “cautiously celebrating” the decision by Louisiana’s Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity to uphold a $4 million GUMBO grant to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) Internet service to over 2,500 households in one of the most poorly connected parts of the state.
As we reported last month, the grant had been challenged by the regional monopoly cable provider Sparklight after the state had awarded the grant to Conexon. The challenge, which claimed the cable company already serves 2,856 homes in the region, brought the project to a grinding halt on the same day residents were set to launch a sign-up-for-service event.
News that the challenge was rejected brought a sigh of relief to members of Delta Interfaith, a coalition of congregations and community-based organizations in the Louisiana Delta pushing for better broadband. Coalition members had formed an Internet task force during the Covid-19 crisis as families struggled to get access to reliable broadband.
The community and elected officials were elated when Conexon, an independent rural Internet provider, was intially awarded the grant in July – only to be frustrated when they learned of Sparklight’s challenge. Concerned that Sparklight (formerly known as Cable One) was simply gaming the state’s grant challenge process in an effort to stave off competition, community members initiated a letter-writing campaign to bring light to the challenge and pressure state officials to resolve the challenge as soon as possible.
Sparklight 'Failed to Carry Its Burden of Proof'
In its letter to Sparklight explaining why the challenge was being rejected, Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity (OBDC) Executive Director Veneeth Iyengar noted that “because Sparklight has provided such a limited explanation of its position, it is difficult to discern and analyze its argument.”
Iyengar goes on to write:
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