$80 million federal broadband grant is history

by Leslie Turk

Newspaper headlines across the state indicate that Gov. Bobby Jindal's only shot at saving an $80 million federal broadband grant for rural areas might be a personal "hat in his hand" visit to the president. And even that, which Jindal says he won't do, may not be enough.

In what may go down as one of the worst bungles of the Jindal administration, the state has apparently lost for good an $80 million grant that would have helped extend broadband access to poor, underserved rural areas of Louisiana. Newspapers across the state reported Thursday that despite outcry from the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the Commerce Department said Wednesday that the decision to pull the funds from the state is final.

While the Jindal administration insists it did nothing to sabotage the grant application as a favor to private telecom interests, it has acknowledged that it opposed the project on the basis that it puts government in competition with private businesses.

Education Commissioner Jim Purcell, who accompanied Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater to a heated PSC meeting Wednesday, blamed the Legislature and a contractor hired by the Board of Regents (which applied for the grants) for the delays, The Times-Picayune reported:

"In my opinion, the biggest issue was ... the inability of the design contractor to meet deadlines," [Purcell] said.

But Philip Meyers, executive vice president of the consulting company -- GEC, headquartered in Baton Rouge -- said that it was on target to get the job done in time, and that its termination during the summer had nothing to do with missing any deadline.

"I think there were other forces at work," he said. ...

[PSC Commissioner] Campbell said the only way to save the grant now was for Jindal to fly to Washington and meet with President Barack Obama "eyeball to eyeball" with "his hat in his hand" and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., in tow.

Read the T-P story here and The Advocate story here.