In Louisiana, citizens face unique problems related to the loss of the internet caused by weather conditions. The state also deals with an overly worked infrastructure that struggles to reconnect services. The long-term effects of these gaps in service have caused businesses to close, loss of jobs, residents to move, and entire communities to stagnate.
In this article, we will explore why Louisiana uniquely struggles in this sector and how fiber internet can benefit communities in the state.
Why Louisiana Could Benefit from Fiber Internet
The Current Struggle Between Louisiana and Broadband Internet
According to a study conducted by researchers from Measure of America, over one-fifth of homes in Louisiana lack access to the internet. The nonprofit found that a shocking 22% of homes in the state lack internet access, while 14% of those surveyed noted that they only have access to cellular data plans.
COVID created myriad new challenges for everyone, including those living in Louisiana. In the wake of the pandemic, the world has moved online. The internet has become the go-to for many things that we once did in person. Without access to reliable internet in this new normal, Louisiana residents are at an incredible disadvantage. Without broadband internet, large portions of the state's population are unable to perform basic life tasks.
The issue gets even worse when you consider children who need to do their schoolwork at home. Without reliable high-speed internet, many must perform the entirety of their work via a handheld phone.
Furthermore, many jobs require internet access, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic might also have difficulty creating resumes and accessing job boards without access to the internet.
The Need for Internet Access and How It Affects Quality of Life
Easy access to the internet isn't just convenient, nor is it a luxury-- it's necessary for ensuring a good quality of life. A lack of internet access has kept Louisiana residents from performing basic tasks. For instance, applying for jobs, accessing telehealth appointments (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic), and finding educational opportunities to expand their futures have all been problematic.
To put it simply, a lack of access to the internet contributes directly to Louisiana's massive issue of inequality.
So what's the solution? There are many.
First, the state could potentially treat broadband internet as a utility. Through this, the Public Service Commission could then treat the internet as an essential service in the same group as water, gas, electricity, and phone access. This classification could push companies to expand their services into areas with no broadband internet services, such as small towns around northeastern Louisiana.
Unfortunately, accessing broadband internet in rural communities is not an issue that citizens can solve independently. It should be the responsibility of local governments to implement broadband internet into places where installations have not been made. It shouldn't be the responsibility of struggling citizens to get the required infrastructure in place-- the solution could be to roll out an infrastructure plan.
While this is doable, there's not much evidence to support that broadband internet can withstand the intense weather that Louisiana faces year-round. A more stable, permanent, and viable solution would be to implement fiber internet across the state.
Let's break down how the implementation of fiber internet could solve Louisiana's internet problem and thus help families and individuals overcome the adverse effects of inclement weather and COVID-19.
How Fiber Internet Can Become the Solution
Without a doubt, fiber optic internet is the fastest and most reliable form of internet connection. A relatively new form of technology, fiber optic is quickly becoming one of the most desired types of internet connections for homes and organizations alike. Compared to cable, DSL, and other types of connections, fiber optic internet can offer better reliability. Faster download speeds, faster upload speeds, and general dependability that you can't get with cable mean you can get more done quickly.
But if you don't have access, you can't benefit from these fantastic features.
With access, households and businesses that need to work remotely and students who need to study remotely can take advantage of the superior speeds that fiber optic internet offers. Just as well, fiber optic internet is quite affordable and is far from an expensive luxury. Everyone, including those living in rural Louisiana, deserves to take advantage of fiber optic internet and enjoy a level playing field in terms of employment, education, telehealth, job searches, and more.
Most Fiber optic networks are buried underground. That means there is less of a chance of damage and outages in the case of intense weather (something Louisiana residents know a thing or two about). Fiber could be the perfect type of internet for residents in this area. Still, only a tiny percentage of Louisiana residents have access at this time.
Luckily, that's going to change with a newly-developed infrastructure plan that the federal government recently developed to assist residents of rural Louisiana with better internet access.
Before we get into that, let's take a quick primer on what fiber optic internet is.
What is Fiber Optic Internet?
Fiber optic internet is a form of technology that transmits data via light along thin glass fibers. Fiber broadband, also called fiber internet, is a unique internet service controlled and powered by fiber optic cables. This type of internet differs from traditional cable internet, which moves data and information by transmitting electricity over copper wires. Cable internet is the most common type of internet found in Louisiana.
While internet access will always vary in quality depending on one's specific budget and availability, there are many reasons to choose an internet powered by a fiber network. This is especially the case when it comes to implementing fiber internet in Louisiana. To start, Fiber can send and receive data at much higher speeds than DSL or cable internet. It's worth noting, though, that one's specific internet speed depends on a few different factors, such as one's chosen Internet Service Provider (ISP). While Fiber can be the fastest option, selecting the right ISP with a well-designed network is essential.
What is Currently Being Done to Implement Fiber Internet as a Solution?
The idea of using fiber internet as a solution in Louisiana isn't just a dream. It's already rolling out.
The Federal Broadband Project, which boasts over $15.5 million in funding, will bring more than 200 miles of fiber cable to rural Louisiana. The funds will help thousands of homes, businesses, and farms in the Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, and Iberville, Louisiana, gain access to Fiber. The government created the project to try and boost internet speeds in rural areas so that they can enjoy the same quality of internet as urban areas. The project will specifically target communities west of Baton Rouge—making Fiber a reality for thousands of folks in rural neighborhoods.
Specifically, the federal project is expected to provide fiber optic infrastructure to 2,609 homes and many farms and businesses in underserved communities. The project is one of the latest attempts to balance disparities between urban areas of Louisiana and the rural regions, which have historically had some of the worst options for fast internet. Slow speeds have resulted in residents, companies, schools, and hospitals not meeting the modern demand for communication and growth.
Star Communications Incorporated will be given a $7.7 million grant and matched loan from the U.S. government to implement this new infrastructure. The Maringouin-based company's CEO, Tim May, noted in a press release that he believes the project's entirety will only take about five years to finish. Exciting news for residents and businesses in Louisiana!
So what does this mean for residents of rural Louisiana? Residents and organizations will pick from various packages that start at about $40 per month. The result is access to internet speeds similar to what those in New Orleans and other major Louisiana cities have enjoyed for years.
"That's something we worry about, the urban versus rural digital divide," Star Communications Incorporated CEO Tim May said in a press release, "We want to pare that so that you can go to Baton Rouge and get the same gig speeds and go over to Grosse Tete and get the same."
With the implementation of fiber internet service, Louisianians will no longer need cellular data to do day-to-day tasks, such as working or doing schoolwork. Currently, over 494,000 Louisiana residents do not have access to a stable internet connection. This new Fiber internet infrastructure could provide an effective solution to a fundamental problem. We might even see fiber optic internet become the most-used form of internet in the U.S.