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Public Service Commissioner Accuses Louisiana Governor of Sabotaging Broadband Grant

Phillip Dampier November 17, 2011 AT&T, Community Networks, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Video No Comments

Campbell

A commissioner on the Louisiana Public Service Commission accused Gov. Bobby Jindal of sabotaging a now-rescinded $80 million dollar broadband improvement grant for the benefit of the state’s largest telecommunications companies.

Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell publicly berated the Republican governor for intentionally interfering with the project until time ran out and the government withdrew its funding.

The cancellation of the project has proved embarrassing because it is the first and only time a state has lost federal broadband grant money.

“We want to know what the heck happened; we’re the only ones in the country that dropped the ball,” Campbell said. “I meet with people in every parish, and the number one priority by far is high-speed Internet, and how do you lose $80 million coming from the federal government to do that. How do you drop the ball, and if they did drop the ball was it because someone whispered in their ears, ‘it’s going interfere with big companies?’”

Campbell suspects the state’s largest phone and cable companies lobbied the governor’s office for changes in what was originally proposed as a public broadband network reaching large sections of rural Louisiana that do not have broadband access.

The state’s Division of Administration eventually scrapped plans for the public broadband network and replaced it with a proposal to use grant dollars to purchase long term institutional broadband contracts from private providers.  AT&T is the dominant local phone company in Louisiana — the same company that has steadfastly refused to provide DSL service across rural Louisiana. The new proposal would have not delivered any broadband access to individual Louisiana homes, only to institutions like schools, libraries, and local government agencies.

In Campbell’s eyes, the grant represented a competitive threat and seeing it dead and buried was the governor’s special favor to Big Telecom.

“I think they threw a little dirt on this one or a lot of dirt on it,” Campbell told the Tulane Hullabaloo.

Jindal himself admits his administration did get directly involved in changing the project’s course.

The governor called the revised private provider-focused project “a reasonable approach that would have expanded broadband access and not hurt private providers.” Jindal attacked the public broadband network originally planned by the Louisiana Broadband Alliance as “a heavy-handed approach from the federal government that would have undermined and taken over private businesses.”

With the $80 million dollars back in the hands of the federal treasury, Jindal is now blaming the Obama Administration for taking the money back.

The Louisiana Broadband Alliance, a collaboration among six state agencies, would have deployed more than 900 miles of fiber-optic network to expand broadband Internet service in some of the most economically distressed regions of Louisiana. The new network intends to provide direct connections for more than 80 community anchor institutions including universities, K-12 schools, libraries, and healthcare facilities. The 3,488-square-mile service area includes 12 impoverished parishes targeted by the state’s Louisiana Delta Initiative and a separate five-parish area that is home to four federally-recognized American Indian Tribes.

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