$15M Louisiana Project Aims to Improve Rural Internet Access

GROSSE TETE, La. (AP) — Parishes west of Louisiana’s capital city will see expanded high-speed internet connections as part of a $15 million federal project to improve online access in rural communities.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said more than 200 miles of fiber optic cable will be rolled out to help 2,600 homes, 12 businesses and 16 farms in Iberville, St. Landry and Pointe Coupee parishes reach faster speeds, The Advocate reported.

It’s the latest push in a wider effort to bridge disparities between urban centers and rural areas. People in rural parishes often rely on their cell phones or satellite internet service, which is far slower and less reliable than cable or fiber optic internet.

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“When students can do their homework at home and not at a McDonald’s, it’s worth it,” said Leslie Durham, the governor’s designee to the Delta Regional Authority during a Tuesday event announcing the project in Grosse Tete.

Maringouin-based Star Communications Inc. will receive a $7.7 million grant and a matching loan from the federal government. Company CEO Tim May expects the entire project will take about five years to complete, starting as early as this summer.

Once it’s finished, customers will be able to buy internet access ranging from $40 to $100 per month for speeds that match those in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

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“We know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” said Roy Hollemon, the USDA’s rural development director for Louisiana.

About 494,000 rural Louisiana residents don’t have access to an internet connection that’s needed to efficiently run devices for web-browsing, emails and other basic uses, according to consumer website BroadbandNow.

Grosse Tete Mayor Michael Chauffe said slow internet speed often deters interested businesses. He hopes the prospect of faster speeds could give residential and business development a jolt.

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“The old saying goes: ‘If you build it, they will come,’” he said.

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