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Landrieu Criticizes, Regents Defend Louisiana’s Role In $80M Stimulus-Broadband Termination
Written by  // Wednesday, 26 October 2011 18:01 //

LandrieuLouisiana U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu complained today about what she sees is another failure on the part of Louisiana to secure funds associated with the federal stimulus or American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

 

Earlier this month, Landrieu complained about the Jindal administration’s refusal to accept money for a education grant.  Today, the target of Landrieu’s ire is broadband.

 The $80 million grant, which was awarded last year through the stimulus program, would have targeted 21 parishes in rural Louisiana including those in the Louisiana Delta Region and the four federally-recognized American Indian tribes.

 

In a press statement, Landrieu’s “today reacted to a decision by the Department of Commerce to rescind an $80 million broadband grant awarded to Louisiana last year, expressing her disappointment that the state was unable or unwilling to meet the necessary deadlines required to move the project forward.”

 

Landrieu said, “I worked closely with the Louisiana Board of Regents, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, and several local officials to secure this critical funding for some of most underserved parts of our state,” Sen. Landrieu said. “Despite receiving the green light for more than $80 million in federal funds, the State fumbled the ball and was either unable or unwilling to complete the project, which could have been a tremendous boost to Central and Northeast Louisiana. 

 

“This is yet another missed opportunity to improve the lives of Louisiana residents, particularly rural Louisianians who are often left out of such initiatives.  If the State of Louisiana is unable to carry out these types of transformative projects across our state, then I will work even harder to partner with interested local officials, non-profits and businesses to accomplish the same goals.”

 

However, Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell appears to put the grant termination blame on the Obama administration.

 

The Louisiana Board of Regents issued this statement in response:

 

Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell responded today to the announcement that Louisiana’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) Grant has been terminated at the federal level by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). 

 

The Louisiana Board of Regents received an $80.6 million grant in 2010 to provide broadband internet service to public entities including public K-12 schools and libraries to rural areas of the state.  Additionally, the grant was to be used to enhance the state’s high-speed optical network, LONI , by connecting it to Mississippi research universities using the National LambdaRail and Internet2 that can support large data exchanges enhancing research collaboration among institutions.

 

“Soon after arriving in Louisiana I became aware of some issues and concerns related to this grant including lack of implementation detail and several design delays,” said Commissioner Purcell. “In my capacity, I have worked closely with stakeholders including the Division of Administration as well as private internet providers to prepare an alternative implementation plan that would salvage this project.  Unfortunately, despite gaining demonstrated support from both our public and private partners, our approach was rejected. We will continue to look for outreach opportunities in our state’s rural communities as well as funding to enhance connectivity to the existing LONI network to support our statewide goal of increasing targeted research.” 

 

 

On October 19,  Sen. Landrieu sent to Gov. Jindal last week regarding his refusal to apply for federal early education funds through the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge the following letter click here.

 

An AP October 23 article said, “The announcement last week that the governor's administration wouldn't seek a grant that could have brought in $60 million in early childhood education funding to Louisiana received strong criticism that Jindal was turning away dollars that could help disadvantaged children get a better education — at the same time Jindal's talking about education reform as his key focus in the upcoming year.

 

Jindal leaders said the grant would worsen problems in a system for early childhood education that is inefficient and mired in red tape and that the grant wouldn't help address children's needs because it is one-time money for ongoing programs.

 

"We need to streamline the governance structure, funding streams and quality standards in our early childhood system — and the grant would only make things worse by reducing flexibility and adding more micromanagement and regulatory obstacles," Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in a statement.”

 

Here is the entire press statement from Senator Landrieu from today:

 

Landrieu: State’s Inability to Meet Key Deadlines Means Loss of $80 Million Broadband Grant for La.

 

WASHINGTON – United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today reacted to a decision by the Department of Commerce to rescind an $80 million broadband grant awarded to Louisiana last year, expressing her disappointment that the state was unable or unwilling to meet the necessary deadlines required to move the project forward.

 

The $80 million grant, which was awarded last year through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), would have targeted 21 parishes in rural Louisiana including those in the Louisiana Delta Region and the four federally-recognized American Indian tribes.

 

“I worked closely with the Louisiana Board of Regents, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, and several local officials to secure this critical funding for some of most underserved parts of our state,” Sen. Landrieu said. “Despite receiving the green light for more than $80 million in federal funds, the State fumbled the ball and was either unable or unwilling to complete the project, which could have been a tremendous boost to Central and Northeast Louisiana. 

 

“This is yet another missed opportunity to improve the lives of Louisiana residents, particularly rural Louisianians who are often left out of such initiatives.  If the State of Louisiana is unable to carry out these types of transformative projects across our state, then I will work even harder to partner with interested local officials, non-profits and businesses to accomplish the same goals.”

 

As originally envisioned, the Louisiana Broadband Alliance, a collaboration among six state agencies, planned to deploy 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 intended to provide direct connections for more than 80 community-anchor institutions including universities, K-12 schools, libraries, and health care facilities. The 3,488-square-mile service area included 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. The new network would have connected to the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI), a more than 1,600-mile, fiber-optic network that connected Louisiana and Mississippi research universities to National LambdaRail and Internet2. 

 

Earlier this year, the state of Louisiana assumed overall control of the project due to initial setbacks with its implementation.  After taking control, the state proposed significantly modifying the project – from a network design proposal to a proposal centered on purchasing indefeasible rights-of-use (IRUs) from local providers.  This new approach unto itself was not problematic and has been done in other states receiving ARRA funds.  However, this request for alternate design repeatedly failed to demonstrate to federal officials that it would allow them to complete the project on time and accomplish the same goals as the original application. 

 

This lack of details and specificity, for example on benefits to local universities and where/when fiber would be deployed in the state, effectively doomed the project. Despite repeated requests and extensions from federal officials, the state was unable to provide sufficient clarity that its new proposal would be completed on schedule and provide similar benefits as the original application.

 

As of June 30, according to information submitted to the Department of Commerce, the project had expended $5.3 million of $15 million in state funds and only $431,747 of the $80.5 million federal award.  Despite expending these funds, only 7 percent of the overall project had been completed as of that date.  The project is currently in the 19th month of a 36-month timeline for the initiative.  The deadline for completion of the project was February 2013.

 

To read the letter from the Department of Commerce to the State of Louisiana regarding the decision to rescind the grant, click here

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