Why Is This Important?
Nearly every aspect of our daily lives involves interacting with the internet in some capacity. Broadband allows Louisianians and businesses access to the most basic amenities needed in the 21st century. We know how important it is for those interactions to bring meaningful benefits to all residents of our state. Internet access has become a critical piece of infrastructure, igniting economic growth and competitiveness. With proper care and planning, we can ensure that all Louisianians receive affordable access to fast internet connections and information on how to use the latest devices.
As internet expands, we recognize the inequalities for those who do not have access to the technology, tools and skills needed to participate in our digital world. This Digital Divide is the gap between those who have the resources to access afford and understand technology and those who do not. It affects Louisianians of all ages, both rural and urban communities and a wide variety of industries.
What is Broadband?
Broadband (broad bandwidth) is any connection that allows data to move quickly from the internet to your device. Think of it as an internet pipeline, much like a water or sewer pipeline. In Louisiana, we define broadband as connections with minimum speeds of 100 megabits per second download (when data loads from the internet to your computer or device) and 20 megabits per second upload (when you send data from your computer or device out to the internet). Today, there are many different types of connections that provide broadband and the options can be very confusing. This is in stark contrast to the early days of internet when dial-up modems provided only 28.8 kilobits per second download and even less in upload speeds. A full-length movie would take nine days to download!
Today, there are many different types of connections that provide broadband at 100:20, and the options available can be very confusing, even for someone well versed in understanding telecommunication options! Below are descriptions:
Bridging The Digital Divide
Eliminating the digital divide is a significant challenge, but we believe it can be accomplished in Louisiana by 2029. The challenges of this can be explained in three main pillars:
Data indicates there are several hundred thousand households throughout Louisiana that lack broadband speeds of 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload. ConnectLA aims to assist local leaders in identifying the extent of the problem locally, and in how they can use the available resources to their benefit. In the short term, there are two programs that aim to impact residents: together, these two programs will affect 250,000 locations during the next five to six years. In 2020, the FCC awarded $342 million to 13 private internet service providers through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. This funding will provide broadband internet to a considerable number of residents over a six-year period. In addition, the state's GUMBO grant program has funded $163 million for local providers to work with municipalities in building out broadband infrastructure.
A big hurdle to broadband access for some residents is being able to afford monthly charges for internet service. 43.6% of people or households do not have access to a low cost, high-speed internet subscription for their homes. Assisting those with affordability concerns will ensure they receive the service they need. ConnectLA believes this is an important area. The GUMBO grant program includes consumer price as a scoring metric to ensure that we offer affordable programs.
The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to $30 each month toward internet service for eligible households. Louisiana ranks in the top beneficiaries of the FCC affordability program with over 309,000 households benefitting from this program, and we strongly encourage our residents to apply.
In today’s society, it is critical for residents of all ages to be able to use the technology and resources available to them. The goal of digital literacy initiatives is to provide learning opportunities and resources for users to gain a working knowledge of the devices and applications at use in their lives. Internal office analysis, extrapolated from the results of a national assessment contained within a 2018 U.S. Department of Education report, indicates that as many as 460,000 Louisiana residents, ages 18-64, lack basic foundational computer skills necessary to take full advantage of broadband services. To provide affordable broadband connectivity to all, we must ensure leaders throughout our state provide the digital literacy tools necessary for Louisianians to excel. ConnectLA is actively working with key stakeholders in educational institutions and libraries to develop and implement models of success, such as the Northstar Digital Literacy program. Digital literacy is important because, even if everyone has access to high-speed affordable broadband, people need to know how to use it for it to be beneficial.