Districts' lack of response stymies effort to bring high-speed internet to Louisiana schools

Only 11 of 69 school districts in the state signed up to be part of the broadband initiative.

A plan to provide high speed internet access to school districts throughout Louisiana has died because of a lack of interest from local educators, officials say.

The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that the state's Board of Regents had offered to make the upgrade happen at no cost to districts through the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI), but only 11 of the state's 69 school districts signed up by the March 23 deadline.

Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo says that level of support "is far below the critical mass needed to proceed with the initiative." Because of the lack of response, "the proposal is no longer valid," Rallo says.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, says part of the reason for the program's failure is poor communications, as well as a short deadline set by the regents.

The regents' goal was to build a statewide, K-12 network that school districts would own. It could be paid for by leveraging the state's 10 percent match to obtain 90 percent in federal funding for construction expenses. The entire project carried a price tag of about $85 million.

State Superintendent of Education John White says that what local school districts were offered "was on a par with the system that colleges have today."

"This was the broadband highway," White says. "This was going to be world-class cable that would allow speed in schools previously unheard of, so that kids could process content at a rate faster than anything that most schools have ever imagined."

How to pay for broadband capacity in Louisiana has sparked controversy for years. The initial work involves putting down miles of fiber optic cable. A push to use a federal grant do so in rural areas died in 2011 amid opposition from then Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The latest proposal had the backing of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Richard Lipsey, chairman of the Board of Regents, says the apparent lack of interest from school districts is especially puzzling because some of them, especially in northeast Louisiana, lack any kind of internet access.

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