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|Campbell promotes broadband at Vidalia meeting|
Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell joined local citizens seeking access to high-speed Internet service with Internet providers Tuesday in his first Broadband Access Workshop.
People from Clayton, Monterey, Ferriday, Vidalia, Waterproof and Lake St. John areas spoke directly with AT&T, Nexus Systems, Wild Blue and other broadband providers at the two-hour meeting at Vidalia Conference Center.
"We have to think about getting high-speed Internet service for everyone in Louisiana who wants it," said Campbell, D-Bossier City. "Businesses need it, kids doing homework assignments need it, and rural communities need it to survive."
David Dodd, an economic development specialist from Shreveport, said broadband service "is like electricity was in the 1920s and '30s. Communities that don't get it won't last."
Campbell, Dodd and others across North Louisiana are hoping that $7 billion in economic-recovery funds from the federal government will jump-start broadband development in rural areas of the country.
"We're going to do our best to get it done," Campbell said. "Too long North Louisiana has been excluded. Below I-10 is where the people and the money are.
"But if you walk up and down the street in places like Ringgold, Logansport and Waterproof, you see what's happening. If we don't do something these communities are going to fade away."
Brandon Frey, PSC attorney from Baton Rouge, said state government is using stimulus funds to develop a detailed map showing areas of Louisiana that do not have broadband access.
Once the map is completed, providers can use it to see where the demand for service is and move into those areas, he said.
Mark Stevenson with Nexus Systems, a broadband provider from Monroe, said his company has built Internet facilities at Vidalia, Ferriday, Lake St. John, Waterproof, Sicily Island, Wisner, Enterprise and other communities in Northeast Louisiana.
"We have a large wireless operation, but we need to be connected to the larger metropolitan areas," Stevenson said. "So we have applied for stimulus funding to develop a 400-mile fiber ring" encircling the Northeastern region of the state.
"Our application has been ranked number-one in its category," Stevenson said. A final decision is expected in one to three months.
Billy Dorsey of Minden, representing CenturyLink, said his company has established broadband service for 86 percent of its North Louisiana region.
"But only 40 percent of the customers have actually purchased the service," Dorsey said. That level of participation makes it difficult for providers like CenturyLink to justify the expense, he said.
Campbell recalled his previous efforts to provide telephone service to the last remaining communities in Louisiana that lacked phones: Mink in Natchitoches Parish and Shaw/Blackhawk in Concordia. He called for similar cooperative efforts of government and private business to bring broadband to all areas of Louisiana.
"Everybody in the business wants the cities, but some people live outside of town. We have to think about ways to get Internet for everyone who wants it."
Campbell said he is planning to host other broadband access workshops in communities across his 24-parish North Louisiana district.
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