The digital divide refers to those who are unable to access high speed internet, along with the economic and educational opportunities it provides. Closing this divide has long been a passion of mine, but the issue took a back seat to issues like taxes, legal and budget reform in previous legislative sessions.
Now, the COVID-19 crisis has made our elected officials acutely aware of the damage the digital divide causes. A recent survey by the Louisiana Department of Education found that only 66 percent of Louisiana students are accessing the internet in their homes. This finding requires immediate action to address the problem.
I have heard countless stories of students and parents in my district struggling to get online to keep up with their education. Some parishes have gotten so desperate to connect their students that they are sending out school buses with WIFI hotspots, so students can do their homework. I even opened my district office, so people can use the internet.
The business community has stepped up with actions, such as signing the Keep America Connected Pledge and providing wireless hotspots to students, but more needs to be done to remove barriers to broadband deployment and get families connected.
That’s why I introduced legislation in January to address the digital divide in rural areas of our state. Because electric cooperatives had served a similar purpose in electrifying our state’s rural areas, they seemed a natural fit to partner with the private sector to close the digital divide in those same areas.
Click here to read SB 406
But what seemed a common-sense and non-controversial bill in January, SB 406 has become a political football for opportunistic special interests. Some tried to use my legislation to increase profits rather than serving rural Louisianans. Despite this, my legislation is on its way to the full House, and it’s still laser-focused on connecting rural Louisiana.
I am committed to working with legislators across the aisle to close the digital divide in all corners of our state. I also look forward to enacting innovative, free-market solutions to address this problem, while rejecting the government- and special interest-led status quo that has stood in the way of getting our state connected.