Louisiana has lost an $80 million rural broadband grant for failing to keep their broadband expansion project on track. The Commerce Department rescinded the grant stating that the project administrators were repeatedly unresponsive to requests for information and updates on where the project stood. Senator Mary Landrieu has said that her state missed an opportunity, while state officials are claiming government overreach in administration of the funds and project.
Local officials close to the project are claiming that the grant came with too much government involvement and that it prohibited beneficial partnerships with the private sector. These provisions, they claim, slowed down project work and made it difficult to bring in needed private sector input to keep the project on time.
The Louisiana Board of Regents applied for the funds which would have expanded rural broadband and given a significant leg up to Louisiana’s education infrastructure. According to Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell the state engaged with public and private sector stakeholders in an attempt to provide an alternate approach but this approach was ultimately rejected by grant administrators. The new approach moved away from designing a state run network and focused solely on purchasing service leases from private sector broadband providers.
Senator Mary Landrieu has vowed to work with local businesses, non-profits and other groups in rural areas to expand broadband more equitably in absence of the project. The Senator, however, may face new rules while she tries to work on a new solution. The Federal Communications Commission is voting today on new rules for rural broadband subsidies that may cap and revoke funds for such work.