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Louisiana ISP Nets $3.1M Federal Grant to Expand Broadband

LUS Fiber will extend broadband infrastructure to underserved areas in St. Martin and Iberia parishes and the city of Scott thanks to a $3.1 million federal grant, officials announced Thursday.

(TNS) — LUS Fiber will extend broadband infrastructure to underserved areas in St. Martin and Iberia parishes and the city of Scott thanks to a $3.1 million federal grant, officials announced Thursday.

The grant will help LUS establish fiber connections to businesses along the U.S. 90 corridor in those areas to help them transition to the current economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grant was facilitated through the Acadiana Planning Commission. Work on the project is expected to begin later this spring and take 18-24 months to complete, officials said.

LUS Fiber provided a $700,000 matching grant for the project.

"The challenge to bring reliable broadband to Acadiana's rural communities has become as important as the delivery of other basic utilities," APC director  Monique Boulet  said. "Decisions we make today about broadband expansion will determine which of Acadiana's towns will survive in the future. Those left behind in broadband delivery will be just that — left behind."

The project is significant boost for economic development efforts in those areas, many of which remain reliant on the struggling oil and gas industry. The grant targets initiatives like this one this is focused strictly on the business community as many have been forced to rely on internet capacity to pivot in the current economy.

The EDA plays a key role in facilitating regional economic development in communities across the nation, including a $2 million grant awarded to the Lafayette Regional Airport in 2019 that went to build parking at the new terminal.

"Communities all across our nation have been faced with how to deal with COVID," said  Jorge Ayala , regional director for the U.S. Department of Commerce. "COVID has really made our economies suffer in many ways. The pandemic has also exposed the divide between rural and urban areas. I think the way this is going to impact your community will be very long term and very much regional in its impact and will spur future development."

Various websites specializing in internet speeds rank Louisiana in the middle, and many of the metro areas have some of the highest speeds in the state. The site ranks the state 33rd with most residents having access to wireline, cable or DSL service.

But only 27% of residents have access to fiber optic service.

In Iberia Parish, the fiber network will benefit the Acadiana Regional Airport and the Port of Iberia, both home to major employers in the region, Parish President  Larry Richard  said. It will also benefit the communities of JeaneretteLoreauville and Delcambre.

"Running this fiber down ( U.S.) 90, we're going to have an opportunity to develop Highway 90 and bring business that we should have in the industrial park there," Parish President  Larry Richard  said. "More importantly, the businesses that we currently have that's having problems being able to communicate, they're going to be competitive in whatever they are doing. This is so important to Iberia Parish and so important to the areas of growth that we're trying to develop in the parish."

LUS Fiber has become a leader in building fiber optic lines, which deliver the fastest internet in the country as well as the nation's first gigabit peer-to-peer intranet. The system also is beneficial for the Lafayette market and surrounding areas by the revenue it brings in and forcing other providers to be more competitive, officials said.

The internet provider was also the target of an investigation into accusations that its former director deliberately overcharged LUS and other Lafayette Consolidated Government departments for internet service to prop up the fiber operations. The district attorney later declined to prosecute anyone and the Louisiana Public Service Commission recently closed its case.

(c)2021 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.