By Paige Nash
If you are one of the many residents of Webster Parish who do not yet have access to the internet (or particularly good internet,) this may be changing soon. It’s hard to believe that in the year 2022, not every single home has access to reliable internet services, but it is true for rural households and many that are even located within the city limits.
Conterra Networks is hoping to work with the parish to provide a fiber optic backbone. Their slogan, “Fiber driven, people powered,” reinforces the idea that they can deliver the highest level of connectivity to residents, providing unlimited bandwidth capacity. They will work in collaboration with the police jury, libraries, schools, and residents to pinpoint the areas in the parish that have the greatest need for internet access.
“We are basically going to build a backbone,” said Timothy Burks, Service Engineer with Conterra. “Then, we will work with service providers that do serve residents, to have access to build distribution networks off of that and support all the residents within the parish.”
The parish will be able to apply for a grant offered by a program named, The Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities or GUMBO for short. This program is providing $177 million to be spent on increasing access to the unserved communities in the state.
These types of grants and funding became available when the pandemic occurred causing most to transition to working from home or taking classes virtually. It was during this period it became apparent the need for internet access was greater than most realized.
“A lot of students did not have the appropriate bandwidth or broadband to access school resources,” said Burks. “It caused a lot of kids to fall behind.”
The Federal Communications Commission originally stated that any area that receives under 25 megabytes per second is considered unserved or underserved, but now that this funding is available, that number is now 100 mbps. If you look at an FCC map of Webster Parish, you can see that hardly any residents receive over 25, if that.
In most cases, you will find that people pay for a gigabyte and only receive a couple of megabytes. A neighborhood shares bandwidth. Installing the fiber infrastructure will allow residents to have that dedicated circuit to each home, so that way they get what they pay for.
“That is our focus, to build a backbone network, not only to support enterprises, which will bring more businesses into the parish, but to support everybody in the parish,” said Burks.
Conterra will begin working with the parish to conduct surveys and density tests. With that feedback, they will then begin putting together a presentation, providing the cost, areas of focus in the parish and in which ways they will go about applying for funding.
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