Vice President Kamala Harris visits Acadiana, celebrates $30 million broadband funding
Vice President Kamala Harris visited the town of Sunset in St. Landry Parish Monday to celebrate a $30 million federal grant that will fund high-speed internet in 11 rural Acadiana communities.
“This is just a down payment,” Harris told a packed-in crowd at the Sunset Community Center.
“Every household in America should be able to access and afford (high-speed internet). I separate those two points, access and afford, because you need both. You need to lay down the fiber. But you also need to be able to pay for and afford it. So these both are priorities for our administration.”
The $30 million grant is coming from the federal Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration as part of its $277 million Broadband Infrastructure Program.
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The funds will be used to build high-speed fiber optic internet infrastructure to some 22,000 households in rural Acadiana whose areas do not have access to reasonable internet speeds.
The grant, which was awarded to the Acadiana Planning Commission, was announced just prior to Harris’ first scheduled trip to Acadiana in February, which was postponed when the Russian invasion of Ukraine escalated.
Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves, who joined Harris in Sunset Monday, said the APC’s massive grant application was chosen because of the vision that local leaders put into the plan and the vital need for high-speed internet in rural Acadiana, where internet access is among the worst in the country.
“It's certainly the strategic vision that the team put together in the application process, the coordination, all the different organizations and institutions here, along with the intersection of the private sector,” Graves said.
“But it's also a recognition of the need. We know that this area is one of the most challenging areas in the country as it relates to connectivity to high speed internet, and so what we're trying to do is get the most bang for the buck.”
The $30 million grant will partner the Acadiana Planning Commission with LUS Fiber and Allen’s Communications to build out miles of fiber internet infrastructure connecting 11 rural Acadiana towns across Acadia, Evangeline and St. Landry parishes.
APC CEO Monique Boulet said the expansion of high-speed internet to rural parts of Acadiana will address a serious need that has hindered local business, education and even public safety.
“These towns have overwhelming elements of poverty, with almost hopeless solutions at their disposal,” Boulet said.
“At their foundations is internet service that goes out for days and weeks at a time, preventing reliable credit card transactions for our businesses, preventing our students from doing homework at home and sometimes shutting down the Church Point Police station for days.”
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Sunset Mayor Charles James, whose town will benefit from LUS Fiber internet services thanks to the grant funding, said he expects the grant to have a major impact on business and education in rural communities.
“There are two main factors. One is what it will do for our business people. I think far and above, that’s one of the things that we would like to see, and we know that's going to happen,” James said.
“The second is education. If you can get your economy up and running with broadband, then the education will follow, and so I'm thinking and hoping that what it will do is help our business people to increase their revenue and also aid in the education of our children.”
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State Rep. Dustin Miller (D-Opelousas), it was a “once in a lifetime moment,” both in terms of the size of the grant and the presence of the vice president, that demonstrates the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to rural communities.
“It tells rural America that they're important to their administration,” Miller said.
U.S. Rep. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans), who flew with Harris to Sunset Monday, said her visit sends a signal of appreciation for the people of Louisiana and their needs.
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“I flew up today on Air Force Two with the vice president and had a chance to speak in depth about the needs of Louisiana, and to know that she gets it. She understands, the Biden administration gets it, and today we see it manifested in the kind of announcement that we've had,” Carter said. “This is great news for Louisiana. It's great news for all of our people.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who joined Harris in Acadiana Monday, said winning such a large federal grant was an enormous achievement for the Acadiana Planning Commission that will address an issue that has only become more relevant since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is going to be very, very helpful for our state, but especially for rural areas where there just is a total absence (of high-speed internet). And the pandemic put a bright spotlight on how important internet is today, whether it's educational opportunities, business opportunities, healthcare through telehealth or just quality of life,” Edwards said.
“I couldn’t be more excited. And I'm glad the vice president came down here today to highlight this particular grant opportunity and what we've been working on here.”
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