At a press conference held on October 6, Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell announced his support of Claiborne Electric Cooperative and Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative providing affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband internet service in the areas where they provide electric service.
Claiborne Electric General Manager & CEO Mark Brown said this support is vital to the proposed fiber-to-the-home broadband project the cooperative has been working on for the past three years.
“We express our sincere thanks for Commissioner Campbell’s support of our project,” Brown said. “Without his endorsement, our proposal wouldn’t be able to get off the ground. With his help, we will now be able to provide desperately needed, genuine broadband access to thousands of homes and businesses across our service area.”
Brown said if the entire LPSC gives the green light to the projects at their mid-October meeting, Claiborne Electric is preparing to participate in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’c Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (RDOF). This program provides significant grant funding to businesses willing to provide broadband internet service to underserved Census blocks. Nearly every part of Claiborne Electric’s service area is underserved.
Brown said that if Claiborne Electric is able to succeed in this fall’s RDOF auction, the co-op’s internet subsidiary will begin a building project immediately, with some subscribers able to receive service as quickly as early summer 2021. As the backbone of the internet system is built, subscribers in each area will be able to use the service. The system should be completely built within five years, with hopes that the project could be finished closer to three years. Brown said the initial build will be financed through a mixture of federal grants and low-interest loans.
Campbell said during the next 10 years, federal agencies are expected to distribute more than $600 million to expand Louisiana’s high-speed internet service. Campbell said he now supports and urges electric cooperatives to compete for that funding.
“These are our tax dollars,” he said. “Few public needs are as vital right now as broadband access, so we should fight to capture these dollars for our state.
“So much of our education, health care, and commerce is now conducted on-line, so reliable, fast and affordable internet service is needed in every household and every community.”
Campbell said he will ask the PSC this month to support proposals by Claiborne Electric and Northeast Power to create subsidiary companies that will offer internet service in their regions. The Louisiana co-ops are part of a trend across the country of electric cooperatives entering the broadband business. Currently, more than 100 electric cooperatives nationwide have thriving internet subsidiaries.
“Rural residents and business owners in North Louisiana have received reliable and reasonably priced electric service from these co-ops for decades,” Campbell said. “I believe they can count on the same for internet service.”