ACA.broadbandreport.004.adv

Employees Ashley Ducote, right, and Kamryn Deshotels work at computer stations Friday, September 17, 2021, at Tincy's Corner, a monogramming and embroidery shop in Ville Platte, La.

Internet providers including LUS Fiber and other companies have applied to the state’s grant program to bring high speed broadband to underserved rural areas.

The state announced the applicants for the $90 million GUMBO — the Granting Unserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities — grant program on Wednesday that will be awarded in March. The program received $440 million in funding requests from 23 companies, including offers to provide services to rural areas of Acadiana, including the city of Ville Platte and areas of Evangeline and Acadia parishes, home to the slowest internet speeds in the region.

LUS Fiber, one of the first to provide municipal fiber-to-the-home systems in the country, applied to provide nearly $31 million in work to extend services to more than 16,000 households and 3,500 businesses in Acadia, Iberia, Vermilion, St. Landry, St. Martin and Evangeline parishes and along the St. Landry economic corridor with a base speed of 10 gigabit ethernet, documents show.

The program requires applicants to provide high-speed internet at affordable prices for the next five years and put up at least 20% in matching funds, with points given to those that go beyond that threshold. The first round of applicants put up 40% on average in matching funds.

LUS Fiber’s applications by parish include

  • Vermilion: $11.1 million total cost to serve 6,581 households and 1,592 businesses
  • Acadia: $8.2 million total cost, 4,448 total households and 962 businesses
  • St. Martin: $6 million total cost, 2,614 households and 295 businesses
  • St. Landry Economic Corridor: $2.35 million, 1,783 households, 527 businesses
  • St. Landry: $1.5 million, 185 households, 24 businesses
  • Iberia: $1.32 million total cost, 659 households and 183 businesses
  • Evangeline: $268,000, 165 households, 8 businesses

The move follows the Acadiana Planning Commission’s efforts to help bring fiber to outlying parishes. Its survey on broadband speeds showed that Evangeline Parish had the slowest median upload speed (1.18 megabits per second) and the second-slowest median download speed (10.06 mbps) in Acadiana. Both are less than half of the FCC’s definition of broadband.

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It also revealed more than one of every three homes in St. Landry and Evangeline parishes has no broadband access, more than twice that of in Lafayette Parish. In Acadia Parish, nearly a fourth of all businesses are located in census blocks where speeds are so slow they are classified as unserved.

“We were pleased with the whole process,” APC director Monique Boulet said of the application process. “It was very good. We are excited about all the fiber applications and the providers who want to provide fiber to the home. It’s going to be crazy to see what gets funding.”

In Ville Platte, which was identified in 2019 as home to some of the slowest internet speeds in the country, current provider CenturyLink applied for the program. The company, which has drawn heavy criticism from Mayor Jennifer Vidrine and others for its slow speeds and poor customer service, applied for a project to bring a base speed of 200 mbps up to 2 gbps to 1,359 households at a cost of $1.36 million.

In Acadia Parish, Crowley-based Reach4 Communications had four applications to upgrade services to households in the Mire, Egan, Maxie and Morse areas. The four projects total $4.3 million and will serve 1,541 households and 22 businesses.

The small provider, which began offering fiber to the home in 2016 and serves Acadia Parish and some areas of Vermilion and Jeff Davis, has done other upgrades in the Estherwood, Midland, and Mermentau communities, owner Jay Dominque said. It’s only the second time his company has ever applied for public funding to assist with a project and has self-funded most of its improvements.

“I think we’re one of the smalleset applicants out there,” Domingue said. “We’re just doing Acadia Parish. We’re trying to provide a good service to our hometown, our home community. You still have a lot of remote areas that the only options are satellite — period. It is bad in some areas. There are some people that can’t get anything because of trees or whatnot. I want to go where people need it.”

Blake Paterson contributed to this report. 


Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.

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