City seeking $9.2 million in stimulus grants to address digital divide

by Nathan Stubbs

Lafayette Consolidated Government and LUS Fiber have applied for $9.2 million in federal grants to address Lafayette's digital divide. Lafayette Consolidated Government and LUS Fiber have applied for $9.2 million in federal grants to address Lafayette's digital divide. The city is seeking the funds from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce's Broadband Technology Opportunity Program. BTOP, funded by last year's American Recovery Act or "stimulus," is administering more than $4 billion in grants to support broadband deployment to under-served areas. Sen. Mary Landrieu recently announced Louisiana has been awarded $80 million to deploy more than 900 miles of fiber-optic network in rural, north Louisiana.

LCG, which is seeking funds through the second round of BTOP applications, has applied for two grants. In one, LUS Fiber proposes partnering with Je'Nelle Chargois' Heritage School of the Arts and Technology to expand on the school's Build-A-Computer Program, which provides low-income students who graduate from a computer literacy course with free computers. The grant application requests $5.3 million, which would go toward 55 direct or indirect jobs in providing 35,000 hours of computer training and 1,000 new PCs, as well as pay for two-year subscriptions to high speed Internet through LUS Fiber for graduates of the program.

The grant application notes that addressing the digital divide was one of the early goals of LUS Fiber and references a study conducted with UL Lafayette of Internet use in Lafayette that can serve as a baseline to measure the program's effectiveness. "From our standpoint," LUS Director Terry Huval says, "this is a perfect opportunity to take the community assets that we have and address the digital divide. Having learned about the work that the Heritage School of the Arts and Technology was doing, we thought it was a perfect match for what we would like to see done, which is get more Internet in the homes."

The other grant being sought by LCG is for $3.9 million and would be administerd by its Community Development department. The grant seeks to expand public computing centers in Lafayette, adding 164 new PCs for local public libraries, 12 for Lafayette's two senior citizen centers and 60 for the Lafayette Housing Authority to create computer centers within three of its housingĀ  developments. It would also fund 43 direct or indirect jobs. "This an excellent example of what we can do by working with other partners in the community," says new Community Development Director Ben Berthelot. "It's the kind of partnership that I envision hopefully doing a lot more of in the future."

LCG submitted the two grant applications yesterday. Officials estimate it could be between six to 12 months before BTOP announces its next round of grant awards.