The lack of quality broadband has resulted in the loss of jobs for residents of parts of Acadiana; Can fiber stop this slip? | Business

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Lisa Deen used hacks she picked up during her 22 years as a business professor when she was trying to figure out why her internet was so slow in her Ville Platte gift shop.

After switching providers from AT&T to CenturyLink, she began wiring devices at her company, Tincy’s Corner, which is just a block south of Main Street in a modest building she has lived in for about three decades. years now. Some days are good, she says, but there are still days when uploading an image from a client can take up to 30 minutes.

That is to say, she stresses, if everything is working correctly.

“They will tell you to unplug your system or restart your modem, but that doesn’t help the situation,” she said. “A lot of the blame is, ‘Well, you’ve got five or six different computers. »Yes, because I need it. It is the infrastructure of this city that is not there for the technological needs of local businesses to be able to operate efficiently. You would think that today this technology and the Internet and all that would not be so much of a problem, but unfortunately it is. “

And sadly for Deen and many others at Ville Platte in this era of increased internet use in the pandemic age, including virtual education and Zoom calls, they are home to the fifth slowest internet speed. of the country, according to a website report in 2019. The more you talk with people in the parish town of Evangeline which is one of the poorest municipalities in the country, the more you will hear stories of people who do whatever is needed to get a stable connection.

According to a broadband speed survey conducted by the Acadiana Planning Commission, Evangeline Parish has the slowest median download speed (1.18 mbps) and the second slowest median download speed (10 , 06 mbps) in Acadiana. Both meet less than half of the FCC’s definition of broadband.

Across from Deen’s business, Maggie Eades struggles with this problem several times a day in her antique shop and cafe, Cottage Couture. Between five and 10 times a day, the system crashes while trying to process a purchase, she said. Twice they replaced the modem, and the provider even worked on the lines outside.

Eades is similarly fortunate with a rental property just outside of town that she owns: “The connection is so bad it barely works.

“Luckily we’re a small town, and they (the customers) know us and we know them, and we tell them, ‘Come back later or pay by phone,’” Eades said of his business. “He’s still in the system whenever he says there’s no connection. When the internet comes back, it will get it back. At this point, I don’t really know what to do. Many people have just started using cash or checks.

The problems in Evangeline Parish are similar to those in St. Landry and Acadia Parishes, according to the Acadiana Broadband Assessment 2021, a joint effort of the APC and the University of Louisiana at the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center in Lafayette. Acadiana, like the state, is home to “haves and have-nots,” the report says, with some Lafayette area users who use LUS Fiber having nearly six times the download speed of users in the Parish of. Acadia.

Availability is a similar issue. More than one in three homes in Saint-Landry and Évangéline parishes does not have broadband access, more than double that in Lafayette parish. In Acadia Parish, nearly a quarter of all businesses are located in census blocks where speeds are so slow they are classified as unserved.

Planning commission officials along with Veneeth Iyengar, the state’s executive director for broadband, will discuss the report’s findings and the state’s efforts to expand broadband access at 10 a.m. Monday at the LITE Center. .

“For me, it’s about small businesses, keeping them and keeping the money flowing,” said Amy Thibodeaux, director of the Acadia Parish Chamber of Commerce. “There is a whole educational component in addition to that. It (COVID-19) has totally increased the need for constant broadband. It is not life or death, but it is sink or swim for sure. It’s tough in rural Louisiana. As we move towards telehealth and online education, we need the Internet. In some cases, we have nothing.

We will keep you posted on the Acadian economy. Register today.

The study revealed the region’s hotspots and black holes, but also the power of what high-speed internet service can do for a community, said APC CEO Monique Boulet. Lack of broadband access favors migration from rural areas of the state, most of which reported population losses in the 2020 census released last month.

Around 31,000 jobs were lost between 2014 and 2018 due to limited broadband access, the report says.

In Lafayette, along with municipal provider LUS Fiber, having fiber optic networks has made the region more attractive to technology companies such as CGI and SchoolMint. But in other areas, especially the inner cities of small towns like Crowley, broadband access is poor.

Acadiana Broadband Report

Thibodeaux would agree. When hosting virtual Rotary Club meetings, she had to leave her office next to the courthouse and go home to get a reliable connection.

“It’s actually surprising how big these black holes are,” said Chad LaCombe, development planner at APC. “You think downtown Crowley with its redeveloped Main Street would have this service. From what we’ve heard and the data we have, that’s really not the case. When the service providers – the big guys – started rolling out their services, they went into the new subdivisions, and that’s where their lines are because it’s easier and cheaper to do. You are therefore leaving aside our main shopping centers.

APC is using the report as a starting point to upgrade the infrastructure in Acadiana with the goal of installing fiber optic cable to the home. Fiber, the report says, provides the highest bandwidth available and is the modern standard for broadband.

The planning commission lobbied the state legislature to allow LUS Fiber, as a public utility, to receive federal grants to expand broadband access through the American Rescue Plan Act as part of the Granting Underserved Municipalities Opportunities Act.

Some private providers have been installed in some rural areas of Acadiana, including one in the Acadia parish communities of Mermentau, Midland and Estherwood, said Chance Henry, Acadia Parish Police Jury Chairman.

“The planning commission put it on the table for us and kind of educated all the ward presidents,” Henry said. “I think ward presidents agree that fiber is a must. Our main goal in Acadia Parish is to bring fiber to the house. We want fiber.

Boulet’s office is also seeking a grant for LUS Fiber to install fiber at Ville Platte, a move that, in a perfect scenario, could be a test for the efficiency of broadband that can spur economic development and help eradicate poverty in the city where, according to the United Way’s 2020 ALICE report, 79% of households living in poverty or ALICE qualified (limited assets, limited income, employed) and only 36% of residents of Evangeline parish were classified as full-time workers.

Once the city is equipped with fiber, Boulet said, the next step could be to hold workshops with residents to teach people how to start a home-based e-commerce business in parallel. These secondary activities, over time, could turn into full-time businesses that create jobs.

“Prepare yourself,” she said. “This digital IQ, we have to increase it, which will not be difficult. They are good people. They are simply poor and isolated. They are off the highway and they have no resources.

“They’ve been calling for a four-lane highway for all these years. (Years ago) the community opposed the freeway and didn’t want all these hitchhikers on the freeway. That’s what (secretary) Donald (Bergeron) tells them: “We won’t need a four-lane highway if we have fiber. This will be our four-lane highway.


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