Future of Louisiana Broadband on Stage with BEAD Planning, Workforce Training

Special Representative for Broadband Andy Burke announced Louisiana as first state to receive $2.9 million broadband planning grant.

Future of Louisiana Broadband on Stage with BEAD Planning, Workforce Training
Photo of Ashley Mullens, director of rural innovation education and broadband at Louisiana State University

NEW ORLEANS, September 2, 2022 – Louisiana Community and Technical College System Director of Rural Innovation Education Ashley Mullens suggested that community colleges that offer fiber optic certification programs would help maintain prospective infrastructure efforts, speaking on Wednesday at Connect Louisiana’s broadband summit.

ConnectLA reports that 21% of households have no broadband access, 12% of school age children are not connected, and 31% of working adults have no digital skills.

Yet workforce development in fiber optics and other broadband related careers are scarce for Louisianans, according to panelists at the summit. Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity Executive Director Veneeth Iyengar urged communities, electric cooperatives, service providers and even libraries to work together in anticipation for the $2.9 million BEAD grant, whose award was announced at the ConnectLA summit.

How workforce training helps bridge the digital divide

At the summit, AT&T Southeast States President Sonia Pérez spoke about the company’s  recent collaboration with Corning communications for The Fiber Optic Training Program, as well as a $40,000 foundation grant for Louisiana Community Technical College to fund fiber optic technical certifications.

Ohio has also made workforce development and education a part of their infrastructure plans. In March of this year, the Wireless Infrastructure Association issued telecommunications tower technician programs at Ohio State University. WIA acts as an in-house expert to aid in workforce education and implementation. Now prospective students have the opportunity to learn a high demand skill.

Regarding federal efforts, Lucy Moore, special policy adviser of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration highlighted the Biden-Harris administration’s recent “Talent Pipeline Challenge.” A White House statement announcing the program focused the way tha “a highly-skilled workforce… can be fulfilled through use of graduates of registered apprenticeships or other joint labor-management training programs.” The NTIA’s rules governing broadband infrastructure requires program applicants to develop a plan for ensuring an available and highly skilled workforce in order to receive funds.

Recommendations for stakeholders

Managing Director of Cajun Broadband Chris Disher recommended going to local governments to determine communities in need of broadband. As a local internet service provider, Disher said that his partnership with Louisiana’s state broadband office helped his company receive a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Cynthia Cockerham, executive director of LaSalle Economic Development District, recommended getting assessment offices involved to assist with mapping, contact federal and state offices, and be persistent. She also highlighted the role of economic development corporations in the broadband connectivity landscape.

Also highlighted at the conference was the appointment of Don Pierson to be a member of the U.S. Investment Advisory Council. Formerly Louisiana Economic Development Secretary, the head of the state agency, Pierson was appointed on August 24 by U.S Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.

Under Pierson’s leadership, Louisiana Economic Development attracted 64 new economic development projects representing more than 18,000 new direct and indirect jobs, 9,700 retained jobs and more than $20.5 billion in new capital investment in 2021.Serving for two years, Pierson will join the 34-member group of stakeholders in advising and implementing programs designed to retain foreign direct investment, according to the state’s annual report.

Also at the conference, Special Representative for Broadband in the U.S. Department of Commerce, NTIA Andy Burke announced Louisiana as the first state to receive the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment planning grant at the summit on Tuesday.

A total of $2.9 million of funds will be invested towards a statewide digital equity plan. According to Burke,100,000 new jobs will be created by proxy of deployment and Louisiana can now prepare to break the digital divide.

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