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East Carroll Parish
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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'
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced earlier this week that Louisiana will be the first state in the nation to receive federal grant planning funds to help states prepare for the deployment of high-speed Internet infrastructure and digital skills training under the Biden Administration’s “Internet for All” initiative.
Enabled by last year's passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the $2.9 million heading to the Pelican State is from the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program and the Digital Equity Act (DEA) – a development Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said was a signal that “the Internet for All initiative is on track and on schedule.”
Over the coming weeks, every state and territory will have funding in hand as they begin to build grant-making capacity, assess their unique needs, and engage with diverse stakeholders to make sure that no one is left behind. My thanks go to Governor Edwards and his team; Louisiana was among the first to sign onto Internet for All and to apply for funding, and I know they’re ready to get to work for the people of Louisiana.
According to NTIA’s press announcement, $2 million of the planning funds being allocated to Louisiana come from the BEAD program and will help the state:
Louisiana’s broadband deployment grant program, GUMBO (Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities), was announced with great fanfare by Gov. John Bel Edwards and several state lawmakers when earlier this summer they visited Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish, the first community in the state to be the beneficiaries of the $130 million grant program.
Broadband-hungry residents and businesses were licking their chops at the prospect of finally getting access to reliable high-speed Internet service in an area that had long been underserved. But what’s leaving a bad taste in the mouths of East Carroll Parish residents is an eleventh-hour challenge to the grant award by the regional cable company.
Conexon was awarded a $4 million grant to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service to over 2,500 households in the rural northeast part of the state. But the monopoly cable provider who serves the area – Sparklight (formerly known as Cable One) – filed a challenge to the grant claiming the cable company already serves 2,856 homes there, even though, as noted by The Advocate, that is nearly 1,000 more homes than what U.S. Census data reports in the project area.
The challenge has brought the project to a grinding halt on the day network construction was slated to begin. The delay has community residents and some state lawmakers frustrated as the state’s Division of Administration tries to figure out if the challenge has any real merit.