Lisa Deen used hacks she’d learned from her 22 years as a business teacher trying to figure out why her internet was so slow at her gift shop in Ville Platte.
After switching providers from AT&T to CenturyLink, she began hardwiring the equipment at her company, Tincy’s Corner, just a block south of Main Street in a humble building she has lived in for about three years. Some days are good, she said, but there are still days when it can take up to 30 minutes for a customer to download an image.
That is, it indicates when everything is working properly.
“They will tell you to unplug your system or restart your modem, but that won’t help the situation,” she said. “A lot of blame is put on ‘Well, you have five or six different computers’. Yes, because I need it. It is the infrastructure in this city that is not there to enable the technology needs of local companies to work efficiently. You’d think that technology and the internet and all that wouldn’t be that big of a problem these days, but unfortunately it is. “
And unfortunately, Deen and many others in Ville Platte have the fifth slowest internet speed in the country in this intensified era of internet use in the pandemic era, including virtual training and zoom calling, according to a 2019 website report. The more people you speak in Evangeline Parish town, which is one of the poorest communities in the country, the more stories you will hear from people who go out of their way to create a lasting connection.
According to a broadband speed survey conducted by the Acadiana Planning Commission, Evangeline Parish has the slowest average upload speed (1.18 Mbps) and the second slowest average download speed (10.06 Mbps) in Acadiana. Both are less than half the FCC definition of broadband.
Across from Deen’s shop, Maggie Eades battles this problem several times a day in her antique shop and café, Cottage Couture. The system crashes between five and ten times a day while trying to make a purchase, she said. They swapped the modem twice, and the provider even worked on the lines outside.
Eades is equally lucky with her own rental property on the outskirts of the city: “The connection is so bad that it hardly works.”
“Fortunately we’re a small town and they know us and we know them and we say, ‘Come back later or pay by phone,'” Eades said of her business. “It’s still in the system when it says there is no connection. When the internet comes back, it will be picked up. Right now I don’t really know what to do. A lot of people have only just started using cash or checks. “
Problems in Evangeline Parish are similar to those in the St. Landry and Acadia wards, according to the 2021 Acadiana Broadband Assessment, a joint effort by the APC and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center. Acadiana, like the state, is home to Internet “bunnies and have-nots,” the report said, with some LUS Fiber users in the Lafayette area having download speeds nearly six times faster than those in Acadia Parish .
Availability is a similar issue. More than one out of every three households in the St. Landry and Evangeline parishes is without broadband, more than twice as many in the Lafayette parish. In Acadia Parish, almost a quarter of all businesses are on counting blocks that have speeds so slow that they are classified as not being served.
Planning commission officials will join Veneeth Iyengar, the state executive director of broadband, to discuss the findings of the report and the state’s efforts to expand broadband access at the LITE Center on Monday at 10 a.m.
“For me, it’s about keeping small businesses and money flowing,” said Amy Thibodeaux, director of the Acadia Parish Chamber of Commerce. “There is also a whole educational piece. It (COVID) has completely escalated the need for consistent broadband. It’s not about life or death, but about sinking or swimming. It’s tough in rural Louisiana. As we move towards telemedicine and online education, we need the internet. In some cases we have nothing. “
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 Monique Boulet, CEO of APC. The lack of broadband access is fueling exodus from the state’s rural areas, most of which reported a population loss in the 2020 census published last month.
About 31,000 jobs were lost between 2014 and 2018 due to poor access to broadband, the report said.
In Lafayette with the municipal provider LUS Fiber, fiber optic networks have made the area more attractive for technology companies such as CGI and SchoolMint. But broadband access is poor in other areas, especially in the inner city areas of smaller cities like Crowley.
Acadiana Broadband Report
Thibodeaux would agree. Whenever she hosted virtual Rotary club meetings, she had to leave her office next to the courthouse and go home to establish a reliable connection.
“It’s actually surprising how big these black holes are,” said Chad LaCombe, development planner at APC. “They think downtown Crowley with its redesigned Main Street would have this service. From what we’ve heard and the data for it, it really isn’t. When service providers – the big ones – started rolling out their services, they went to the new subdivisions, and that’s where their lines are because it’s simpler and cheaper. So you leave out our most important trading centers. “
The APC is using the report as a starting point for upgrading Acadiana infrastructure with the goal of installing fiber optic cables to the home. Fiber, according to the report, offers the highest bandwidth available and is the modern standard for broadband.
The Planning Commission advocated state lawmakers for LUS Fiber, as a public utility, to receive federal grants to expand broadband access through the American Rescue Plan Act under the Granting Underserved Municipalities Opportunities (GUMBO) Act.
Some private providers have been installed in some rural areas in Acadiana, including one in the Acadia Parish parishes of Mermentau, Midland, and Estherwood, said Chance Henry, president of the Acadia Parish Police Jury.
“The planning committee put it on the table for us and trained all the mayor,” said Henry. “I think the township presidents agree that fiber is a must. Our main goal at Acadia Parish is to have fiber optic in the home. We want fibers. “
Boulet’s office is also looking for grants to install fiber optic by LUS Fiber in Ville Platte, a move that, in a perfect scenario, could be a test case of how efficient broadband can fuel economic development and help alleviate urban poverty Eliminate According to United Way’s 2020 ALICE Report, 79% of households either living in poverty or qualifying as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and only 36% of residents in Evangeline Parish were classified as full-time employees.
Once the city is outfitted with fiber, Boulet said the next step could be holding workshops with local residents to teach people how to start an e-commerce business at home on the side. These sideline activities could evolve into full-time businesses over time that create jobs.
“Get ready,” she said. “We have to jack up this digital IQ, which won’t be difficult. They are good people. They are just poor and isolated. You are off the highway and have no resources.
“You’ve been begging for a four-lane highway over the years. (Years ago) the community objected to the interstate and didn’t want all those hitchhikers on the freeway. This is what (Secretary) Donald (Bergeron) tells them: “We don’t need a four-lane freeway if we can get fiber. This will be our four-lane motorway. ‘”