La. state leaders announce major investment in broadband internet expansion, digital literacy program

Louisiana state leaders announced a $130 million investment from the America Rescue Plan to bring more affordable and accessible internet
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 10:50 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2022 at 10:51 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Louisiana state leaders announced a $130 million investment from the America Rescue Plan to bring more affordable and accessible internet to more than 66,000 households and small businesses through Internet Service Providers in 50 parishes.

Applications for the first phase of the grant were submitted through Louisiana’s broadband grant program called Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities (GUMBO).

The total investment from the American Rescue Plan is $176 million. $130 million will be used for the first phase.

“There are hundreds, and thousands of people in Louisiana, a state of 4 million, who do not know how to use the internet successfully, or maybe don’t even have access to it,” Dr. Kim Hunter Reed said.

To address the estimated 462,000 Louisianians who lack basic digital literacy skills, ConnectLA, the Louisiana Board of Regents, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the State Library of Louisiana have partnered to establish pilot programs in multiple parishes to reduce the digital illiteracy rate in those parishes by 50 percent over five years.

Today, Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Kim Hunter Reed announced the launch of five Digital Literacy & Inclusion Pilot sites embedded in rural and urban library branches. The pilot sites are designed to not only increase access to high-speed digital resources but also improve the overall computer and internet literacy of individuals living near those library locations. Parishes housing the five Digital Literacy & Inclusion Pilot sites include East Carroll, Jefferson, Livingston, Rapides, and West Feliciana.

“Whether you’re trying to fill out a FEMA form, whether you’re trying to apply to college, whether you’re trying to apply for a job, or maybe even order groceries or have a telehealth visit with a doctor, the ability to get online and do the work you need to do or that you aspire to do, requires a level of digital literacy,” Dr. Reed said.

Each site is set to receive $20,000 to assess its community’s needs for digital literacy and provide instructional opportunities such as skills assessment, self-directed online learning, and digital skill building. These activities will be conducted by a team of 55 professional librarians and staff appointed to serve as Digital Navigators (DNs).  DNS for the pilot sites have already completed more than 11 hours of training through the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and Northstar Digital Literacy to ensure the successful launch of each program’s activities.

“It’s been a group effort, and something I think it’s something that’s going to help the parish in the long run,” West Feliciana Parish President Kenny Havard said.

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