American Rescue Plan may aid internet access effort

By Tina Montgomery

Webster Parish is one of 50 parishes that will benefit from a multi-million dollar investment to make the internet more affordable and accessible.

In an announcement made on July 26, 2022 in Lake Providence, Governor John Bel Edwards along with state lawmakers, locally elected leaders in North Louisiana and higher education commissioner Kim Hunter Reed made public the investment from the American Rescue Plan.

He said this investment will impact more than 66,000 households and small businesses with a total investment of $176 million. The first phase of the grant was submitted through Louisiana’s broadband grant program called Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO) and will use $130 million.

The declaration highlights the groundwork that Gov. Edwards began in 2019 when he signed an executive order creating the Broadband for Everyone Louisiana Commission with the goal of eliminating the digital divide by 2029. The plan is to help underserved areas of the state.

“We learned a great deal from the pandemic about how critical it is to have high-speed internet in Louisiana,” Gov. Edwards said. “With today’s announcement, we are one step closer to reaching our goal of eliminating the digital divide in the next seven years.”

Gov. Edwards said that there will be another $43 million in funds from the ARP awarded by October and that they are expecting more funds to come from the bipartisan infrastructure investment and Jobs Act to continue to address access, affordability and literacy.

Broadband access is important because research shows it is linked to better outcomes in education, healthcare, economic development and more. The dedicated federal funding will provide the resources to help Louisiana resolve many of the state’s broadband issues.

To understand the impact this will have for Webster Parish, these are the digital divide statistics:

  • Access
    • Unserved Residents: 14.72%
    • Potential Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) locations: 3,841
  • Affordability
    • Median Household Income: $28,951
    • Poverty Rate: 29.6%
  • Digital Literacy
    • Digitally Illiterate Rate: 15.8%
    • Digitally Illiterate Residents: 3,470

To see the list of parishes this will impact, including digital divide statistics and more in depth information visit http://www.connect.la.gov.