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55 by 25: Acadiana Innovation for a More Connected Future

Acadiana is no stranger to innovation. From the creation of one of the first public power utilities in the country to one of the first community-wide fiber installations, our region has invested in infrastructure for the next generation of connectivity.

Broadband connectivity became a massive challenge for all communities during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when millions of professionals began working remotely. At the same time, schools were shuttered and classes moved online. Even middle-class homes with reliable internet had to work around bandwidth bottlenecks when suddenly every family member needed high-speed access at the same time. It also became quickly apparent that not every student had access.

Connectivity for Students
In 2020, One Acadiana was part of a public-private partnership to bridge the digital divide for Acadiana students. One Acadiana, Love Our Schools, The Pugh Family Foundation, the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation, and Lafayette Parish School System joined together to implement solutions like expanded wi-fi in school parking lots, wi-fi-enabled buses that could be deployed to neighborhoods, staffing a help desk for technical assistance, and negotiating low rates for families of students. “Link & Learn” continues to evolve as LPSS has been working to provide free community-wide 6G wi-fi to students and employees, starting with a pilot program in the 70501 zip code.

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Even today, nearly 20% of Louisiana residents still have little to no access to broadband and are disadvantaged as every aspect of society increasingly depends on internet access to learn, work, and live. This is especially felt in rural areas where entire communities can shut down when there is an outage. Access is now generally needed to apply for a job, take payments for small businesses, or upskill for a better career. Healthcare has also become reliant on internet access as telehealth options have expanded and providers need to stay connected for coordinated care.

As millions of dollars are being allocated to expand high-speed internet access across Louisiana, a looming concern is if there will be enough workers to install and maintain it.

SLCC Fiber Optic Technician Program Addresses Growing Needs
This fall, South Louisiana Community College (SLCC) began offering a new program designed to help meet the broadband workforce need. The program is a 20-week, 700-hour Fiber Optic Technician course. It offers nine credentials that include pole-climbing techniques, construction methods, safety, and commercial driving. As this is a high-demand program, there are a variety of grants and loans available to help defray the cost of training so technicians can be ready to work as soon as possible. For class dates and enrollment, potential students can call 337-521-9028 or fill out this form to be contacted.

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