Rural Broadband: Plea for better service reaches legislators

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By Times Staff

One of the issues the COVID pandemic has really brought into focus is that areas of our state do not have internet service. The lack of internet service and/or spotty service and the impact it has had on virtual learning has become a critical issue for school systems in the state. Better internet service was the second priority item voiced by residents in a recent poll conducted by the Natchitoches Times.

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State Senator Louie Bernard pointed out the northeastern part of Natchitoches Parish, primarily the Goldonna area, is one such area. Speaking to the Times last week, Bernard said broadband service, or the lack thereof, is a big radar item. Bernard said billions of dollars have been allocated by the federal government to try and get these areas service.

“Now it’s really got to be a remote area that doesn’t have anything,” Bernard said. Some of those areas are qualifying for some of those funds and I believe the Goldonna area qualifies.” Bernard stressed that it is a journey and not a destination right away. “It’s one thing to put fiber optics in a trench out in the front yard but it’s something else to get it to the house. That’s where the expense is involved.”

“I am not sure of all ISP in the area, but I know some customers have Hughesnet and Viasat.  I have seen through social media many threads where residents are having issues with connectivity,” Goldonna Mayor Jennifer Smith said. Stuart Carnline, spokesperson for EpicTouch, said they do not now, nor do they have immediate plans to have a presence in Goldonna. He said long term is a possibility, but not right now.

“At least broadband in on the radar,” Bernard added. “We have schools saying we’ve got to go online to learn. How can you do that if you don’t have any ability to get on it?” Bernard questioned. “The internet services for Goldonna have always been slow and spotty to say the least.  With the recent pandemic and social distancing mandates, the lack of reliable internet to our area has made it more difficult to work remotely or provide education to primary and secondary school students,” Smith said.

Bernard said Goldonna is the hotspot area of the parish. Around us, he pointed to the community of Poland, south of Alexandria and the Northeast corridor of the state. He said there are pockets across the state that simply do not have access to internet service. He believes this issue will make its way before legislators in some fashion.

Smith said her community is also working with Rep. Gabe Firment on the issue. He will be present at the Goldonna Town Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19. “We will be presenting a resolution …in our endeavor to get high speed internet to Goldonna residents,” Smith said.

Firment told the Times he put together the resolution for municipalities in his district and will present ia version tailored to Goldonna at the meeting.

“It shows the communities are unified and committed,” he said. “It is our hope that we are soon able to provide our residents with better ISP options,” Smith said.

In print Jan. 16, 2021