State loses important federal grant
by Foster Campbell
Governor Bobby Jindal’s refusal to ask President Obama to restore an $80-million federal grant for Internet service in the Louisiana Delta is inexcusable and a crying shame.
On Wednesday the Public Service Commission, at my urging, questioned Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater on the state’s loss of the $80 million U.S. Commerce Department grant to build 900 miles of broadband in 21 rural parishes.
The “Louisiana Broadband Alliance” project, headed by the state Board of Regents, was the only federal broadband grant of 230 to be revoked by the government. Commerce officials cited mismanagement by the state and lengthy delays for the cancellation.
I told Rainwater that the Governor should put his hat in his hand and meet with the President to plead for the grant to be restored.
Gov. Jindal, through a spokesman, told the Baton Rouge Advocate that the Governor would not call President Obama. The statement quoted the Governor saying: “This grant called for a heavy-handed approach from the federal government that would have undermined and taken over private business.”
The response reminded me of a political saying from the last century: The speaker said he was opposed to communism, fascism and socialism, but the worst “ism” of all is “nut-ism.”
What you are seeing in Bobby Jindal is straight nut-ism. He favors an extreme political stance over the people of the Delta parishes who desperately need the jobs and opportunity that would come from broadband.
I told the PSC I uncovered two Internet companies with ties to Gov. Jindal that opposed the Board of Regents project. The companies, Network USA of Carencro and Detel Wireless of Baton Rouge, had both been rejected for federal broadband grants, and both the companies and/or their owners and associates had contributed money to Gov. Jindal’s campaigns.
I contrast the negative attitude of the Jindal associates with the stance of companies that supported the broadband project: AT&T, CenturyLink, Nexus Systems of Monroe and Northeast Telephone of Collinston. I also found more than 80 letters of support from members of Congress, local governments, institutions and businesses from across the state.
Bobby Jindal ignored all that. You have to wonder if he was more interested in raising campaign cash from cronies than helping the Delta residents most in need of his help. It is inexcusable and a crying shame.
I associate federally funded broadband with the development of rural electric cooperatives during the Great Depression. The investor-owned electric companies would not bring power to the rural areas of America, so President Roosevelt developed rural electric co-ops with support from the government. Louisiana has 10 co-ops today, and they provide good service with some of the cheapest electric rates in America.
AT&T acknowledged in their support for the Board of Regents project that the Delta areas to be served were unlikely to get broadband fiber built.
Foster Campbell is the Public Service Commissioner for District 5 in north Louisiana