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OneRouge Community Check-In - Week 168

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

We’ve all heard that there is such a thing as a digital divide. This essentially refers to the gap that some folk fall into because they don’t have unfettered access to tech like broadband. This is important, not for gaming, but for many super important activities like hurricane response teams tracking storms, deploying rescue teams, and coordinating clean-up. Despite our reliance upon those sorts of emergency services and efforts to fill it, Louisiana currently has a pretty bit gap! Particularly, 21% of households don’t have broadband and 12% of school kids are not connected. As part of our Back To School series, we are talking about building a bridge over the ever widening digital this case out of fiber. But before we start, did you know about some of the good work already happening in our very own backyard?

  • There is a plan in place to eliminate the digital divide in Louisiana by 2029

  • Connect LA is leading our Louisiana initiative for broadband

  • A map of connectivity exists and you can help make sure it is accurate

  • To minimize disruption and maximize efficiency for necessary construction they are implementing a "Dig Once" policy

  • And until everyone is connected check out the WiFi 2 Geaux at the local library!

Join us this Friday as we hear from our guest speakers:

  • Veneeth Iyengar - Louisiana State Executive Director for Broadband Development and Connectivity - ConnectLA

  • Manny Patole - Communites Director, Urban Planning Professor at NYU, Co-City Fellow and Project Manager

  • Thomas Tyler - Deputy Director of ConnectLA

  • Eric Romero - City/Parish Baton Rouge Director of Information Services

  • Mia Ruffin - Regional Level Urban Planner w a focus on Broadband Access

Enlight, Unite, & Ignite!



Pepper Roussel: Good morning, One Rouge. Thank y'all for being here on time and on a Friday in a car and a One Rouge shirt. Happy Friday, you know how much I enjoy y'all spending your weekends or the beginning of your weekend with me Almost like it's not even really work Anyway we are talking today about the digital divide as part of our back to school program or back to school series And the idea is that every year we have folks who do not have access and that access is not something that is for some of us, especially those of us who do have ready access, whether it be through your phone or your through your laptop, a wifi at home or at work or a coffee shop or almost everywhere you go.

And so what we are going to do is to have a little conversation, a little one about about how it is. Yes. Thank you, Ms. Verna. We do need to have a OneRouge shirt day. We're going to have a conversation about who, what broadband is where you can get it, where we've got some shortfalls, and Mia Ruffin is gonna start us out with a basic overview, and then we're gonna first move into what we're doing at the state level, then to city parish, and then to local.

All that said and done, Mia, your five minutes starts now.

Mia Ruffin: Awesome. Good morning, everybody. My name is Mia Ruffin and I am an urban planner in the area. A lot of my work in the past couple of years have been focused on digital equity both in the capital region area and just in a little few smaller instances.

Right now I'm doing a lot of operations specifically with a broadband entity in the area. I'm very excited to have the chance to talk with you about in a little bit, but I thought it would be nice to maybe set the floor for us. I know that we all are using the internet right now to some degree to access this conversation, but that doesn't mean everyone knows how the the dynamics of what happened.

So I'm not going to give everyone a crash course even at five minutes, probably three now. But there are certain things that I think are relevant and give us a of entryway into the conversation we're about to have. So for one, I know a lot of us hear the term brought being an internet use interchangeably.

Not quite the same thing. For one, COVID-19 very much so illuminated. A lot of folks, lay people, professionals and whatever domain exists. Government entities, a bunch of different folks are made aware of the fact that internet can be slow, can be fast. Broadband, very specifically, is internet that operates at a speed of 25 megabytes per second download and 3 megabytes per second upload.

That probably sounds very strange to a lot of you, what does that mean? Very specifically, what that means is that When you're thinking about what a student would be doing on their day to day, so when you have students at home and please call me, tell me when I hit five minutes because I will go over it.

When students were at home, they were needing to operate somewhere between 5 and 25 megabytes per second. To stream a video, that may take 5 to 8 megabytes per second. To do some web browsing, that may take 1 to 10 megabytes per second. But in a general way, The work from home processes that you may need to do.

So a Zoom call uploading something to Dropbox, all of that operates somewhere between 25 and 40 megabytes per second. Recognize that internet, by proxy of it being the internet, is just the way that you get to be connected to other computers, no matter what you have access to it. If you're within a network, a fellow co worker, And that's the internet that you can occupy within that sphere, right?

Or the World Wide Web, you're connected to all the other computers connected to the World Wide Web. Broadband establishes that there is a standard 25 3, and that may be insufficient for you working from home, but it may generally be sufficient for students. That is a very low understanding in terms of technicality.

But not in complexity understanding the broadband. I could go on but I'll talk more about it. Thank you

Pepper Roussel: All right, so I was actually pretty darned impressed I don't know that I knew that World Wide Web meant that you are connected to all the other computers on the web Thank You Reverend Anderson you got a little round of applause little round of applause and so that brings us to now that we've got a basic understanding of What it is that we're talking about.

We will start or shift to the me and if you wouldn't mind letting us know who you are, what you do and it's specific to the call. What's Louisiana doing in this mode

Veneeth Iyengar: Thanks Pepper for having me on and good morning. I've had the pleasure of speaking to all of you before in the past. As we talked about the state's efforts and Louisiana's efforts to eliminate the digital divide.

But my name is Veneeth Iyengar. I'm the Executive Director for Connect LA. We're the Louisiana State Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity. And we were legislatively created back in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. And Governor Edwards and the legislature late '20, early part of '21. Appointed me as the first executive director.

So we're effectively a public startup. We're a federal office, but it's constant. The state complex of Louisiana and we're in the division of administration. And so our singular goal is to eliminate the digital divide by 2029. And look, you guys are all smart. You understand what the digital divide is, but let me walk you through very tactically what we've been doing over the last couple of years.

The first is. We received 176 million dollars from U. S. Treasury. We've already committed 130 million of that of those 176 million. Really, it's not 130, 140 out of the 176 million to build high speed internet. In this case, fiber optic speeds going to the house to oh, that's going to impact over 65, 000 households and small businesses between now and the next 18 months.

A number of projects are already underway. A number of projects are already complete. Projects in St. Martin Parish, it's already complete, it's all underground construction. Iberia, projects in Tensaw Parish is starting to ground break. Avoyles, we did a big ground breaking in Avoyles Parish.

For those that don't live in Louisiana, it's really, Avoyles is really the central part of Louisiana, and where the most of the issues are when it comes to access in areas north of Alexanderia, which is in the middle part of the state, but my point is projects are either underway or are getting completed.

In fact, we're doing a big celebration August 28th in a parish called Lafourche Parish, where we're actually celebrating the completion of a project and we're going to get some people from the White House to come for that. We still have money that we need to commit to addressing the digital divide from Treasury.

On top of that 176 million, we were fortunate to receive The eighth largest allocation in the country and the 10th largest on a per capita basis from the infrastructure bill. So our office will receive in the state of Louisiana, will receive close to 1.4 billion from the infrastructure bill. We were fortunate to participate in a June 26th White House announcement that had secretary Raimondo, president Biden, vice president Harris, and then Mitch Landry, the infrastructures czar, announced what every state's allocation is.

There are really six states that are going to have what we consider excess funds. We were one of the fortunate to have, to be one of those six states that we're going to have excess funds. And what that excess funds means effectively is we'll have enough money to once and for all solve the digital divide from an access issue.

There are 200, 000 households and small businesses in Louisiana that are not federally funded, that are going to be eligible for the infrastructure dollars. We'll have enough money. Based on our own internal analysis to get to ensure that everyone gets fiber, if that's what we want to do, but more importantly, to bury this infrastructure underground, which I think is really important from a resilience perspective.

And then the last thing is for the remaining dollars that we have left over, we want to start executing our digital equity plan. And so we're in the ninth inning of publishing the final draft of our digital equity plan. Sometime in the next 10 days, we'll submit that to NTIA. And what we talk about is very thematic things that we want to invest in.

We might want to create our own affordability product, similar to the Affordable Connectivity Program in Louisiana. We might want to use some of our dollars, and we will likely use the first dollars from the infrastructure bill to inject anywhere between 27 and 30 million to the community college system in Louisiana to help really Push out broadband certified classes throughout the state of Louisiana.

One of the things that we might do is upgrade the telehealth infrastructure all throughout the state. In fact what, I don't know if you caught it, we haven't fully publicized it, but we partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation and the state library to effectively identify a number of libraries in Louisiana and a number of different parishes, I think over a dozen parishes where.

Each of those libraries will serve as telehealth conduits, where people historically struggled with primary care access and would have to drive tens of miles away to achieve, to reach their nearest primary care provider can now go to their local library, in this case East Carroll and have a facilitated telehealth visit.

So that, those kinds of public private partnerships between our office, and in this case Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, and the state library are going to be things that will likely scale, build. and then quickly execute based on efficacy. We're making substantial headway towards tactically executing the solutions on eliminating the digital divide.

And then the last thing I'm going to mention, Pepper, and I think this is important, is what's next. So between now and the next several months, we have to submit a final proposal to NTIA, which is the federal agency for all things broadband. We'll make that available for public comment. Volume two of this initial proposal next week.

That's what we're targeting. It'll be found on our website. And then that'll undergo a 30 day comment period. We'll submit our final version of our digital equity plan. That'll be available on our website within the next 10 days as I mentioned. And then what that then does is help us understand, but we'll start to work on the mechanics to execute a grant program using the infrastructure dollars in Q1 of next year. We'll look at obligating the entire amount of dollars and once it's done, then the shift and locus of responsibility will fall from us to internet service providers and the number of partners we'll have throughout the state to then build up the workforce, build up our digital equity efforts and build access.

So I'm going to stop there. I hope this was helpful. Thank you very much.

Pepper Roussel: You're not going anywhere just yet because we got some questions that are already popping up in the chat. But before we get to to questions about Connect Louisiana, I want to shift to City State. Excuse me, City Parish.

Eric, if you wouldn't mind letting us know who you are, what you do, and specific to the digital divide, what's City of Baton Rouge doing?

Eric Romero: I'm Eric Romero. I'm the director of information services for the city of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge. So working with Mayor Broome, we handle all the technology that's traditionally on the city parish network.

So what we're talking about today is really the networking outside of the city parish network in the community. So quite candidly, we're a little bit challenged in what we can do to help the residents expand. Broadband adoption. It's just capacity in city parish. We have all of these other needs, drainage and crime and such budget and then just infrastructure that we don't have that could help facilitate some of the growth.

So what we've done is we're taking the approach where we're letting the state with their program for these program really push that expansion out because that's they have the funding for it. And that's what they're geared for But we're also trying to do certain projects in the parish using partners.

So what we look at When we talk about broadband access, it's not just about availability. So we have areas in the parish Let's say in North Baton Rouge that they have availability But it's affordability, right? They can't afford to pay for that high speed access. Then, if they can afford it, if we can get the service to their residents, do they have the devices that will be able to use the broadband?

Or are they going to be running off of a cell phone, mobile device? That's not sufficient to do schoolwork. You can't do, a term paper on an iPhone or Android. Then, if they have the device... Have they been educated in how to use the technology? That's a big component. And then one of my soap boxes is cybersecurity as well.

So we were, we're putting devices and we're giving broadband to more and more people, but they need to be educated to the threats that exist out there to make sure that the work that they're doing online is protected. So some of the things that, that we're doing is We passed a dig once ordinance and what that is, is it basically states that any time that we open up the roads or we open up ground in City Parish for City Parish projects, so think about if we're doing a sewer expansion or the new VBR program where we're opening, we're building new roads and such we want to make sure that All the internet service providers are aware of that because the most expensive part of broadband expansion is putting fiber optics in the ground, digging the ground to put the fiber in there.

So if we can, if while the ground is open, while we're building our infrastructure, the city parish infrastructure and The ISPs can at the same time put their conduits with fiber in the ground that hopefully is going to expand, avail the availability side of it. We're looking at putting wifi in some of the city parish buildings that especially that where the public would visit especially community centers.

And make that Wi Fi available free to those patrons. We know that's not ideal. You have to travel to the center and there may be competition for computers or bandwidth, but that's just another area that we're trying to help facilitate. The library is also, they're under City Parish, but they're autonomous and they're doing a lot of good.

Work there. They're actually with a grant program. They were able to purchase a lot of my five devices So you can actually go to the East Baton Rouge Library and check out a my five device And I don't think it's not like a book where you only can check it out for two or three weeks They have like long term rentals.

So again, not ideal, but it's again an option for the residents and then lastly, I'm going to hit on cyber security because again, that's my big soapbox right now. It's, we see the threats daily here. We've really embraced a community approach to cyber security. So it's not just enough that I'm doing everything that I can to protect the city parish network.

We need to make sure that the entire community is doing everything that they can to protect their own data, their own networks and such. So from a small business that if they get attacked or compromised, that could basically be the ruin of them. If it's a hospital that gets compromised and they have to shut down, that's affecting public health.

If it's a utility, think about if the water system we had the colonial gas line that's that was infrastructure attack. We shut down that directly affected gas prices. What happens if somebody hacks into the water company or worse, our sewer system and shuts down all of that equipment that's moving water or sewer.

That's would be disastrous for the residents. We're partnering with the University of Texas, San Antonio, that they are part of a national cybersecurity conglomerate funded by FEMA and bringing in all those different parties together to to just make sure everybody's aware of the threats.

I can't tell you how to protect your network at home or your data at home, but we can talk about best practices. And we just want to make sure everybody's aware and they're doing their best so that at the end of the day when they get online and they're using the technology and the broadband, that they're as protected as possible.

Pepper Roussel: Thank you very much. We have tons of questions in the chat that we are going to get to after we hear from Manny Patel. Our very own Manny, please tell us who you are, what you do, and specific to the conversation. What's going on right here in town?

Manny Patole: Hey, y'all. I started my work in Baton Rouge almost a little over five years ago.

No, it's a surprise I consider myself now more of a community economic development scholar figuring out ways on how to uplift those communities that might have been left behind, disconnected or not always included in some of these conversations. And you've heard me talk about my work with Build Baton Rouge and Co-City of Baton Rouge.

You've heard me talk about accessing opportunities through NYU's capstone program to help add capacity to local organizations here in Baton Rouge. But today I'm talking about a new kind of social venture startup that I'm part of that I will say that I helped attract to Baton Rouge because of the potential opportunity that we both saw of the organization I saw within the capstone.

But that needs just that little bit of push, that little bit of connectivity, so to speak. So looking at this as what Eric has said, and what Beneath has said, and what Mia has said as well Bakery Broadband is the organization, some of you have heard, meetings about this over the last couple of months having thanked the Walls Project for the opportunity to present a little bit today.

And our main thing is figuring out a way to provide ubiquitous broadband at an affordable or low cost to those in North Baton Rouge or disconnected communities. Our ideal motto is to provide better internet than South Baton Rouge. And looking at that, it's a, you aim for the stars and hopefully you land among the clouds there.

So while we're looking at this, all the things that we talked about Throughout these Waterloo's calls are those, those nine drivers of poverty, they always come back down to infrastructure in some way, shape or form. And as we're looking at this for most of the things that everyone has just said for me, one of those things that's now necessary as we saw from the pandemic and currently see today, is that digital infrastructure.

Mia has talked to, working on digital equity and some of the other folks on this call. A lot of you have experienced this either personally or professionally. How can you do some of these things without a computer, without an app, or some sort of digital device, or without access to the internet?

How are you looking for jobs? How are you paying your bills? How are you accessing the Affordable Connectivity Program if you don't have a digital device, to actually go on and do the application? So you know, how are you registering yourselves for some of these other public service benefits without actually being able to upload those things?

Even if you have a form, you still have to figure out a way to submit it online. Either you go to some place or you have to ask, the kindness of your neighbors and friends and things like that. So as we're looking at this we're looking at what Eric said as well, is that the profitability of this, right?

We're looking at traditional internet service providers, also known as ISPs. They're usually looking at those that are the highest profit margin and the lowest investment, right? It's basic business, right? You want to invest little and make more as much as possible. When, crunching the numbers, there's always anywhere between 5 and 20 percent that are left out because they're either too spread out when you think about network infrastructure and the economies of scale or they are not they don't have, the ability to pay versus the willingness to pay for some of these services.

And my research in water is very similar to this research in digital connectivity, is that those who actually have the lowest ability to pay usually have the highest willingness to pay. What does that mean? Is that mean people who are poor are usually willing to be willing or have to pay a higher cost burden as a percentage of their income for some of these basic services?

When you think about energy, you think about water, you think about housing, so on and so forth. But for us, I know I have one minute. I just haven't talked a lot about this. So we're looking at providing that service to that 5 to 20% and we're looking at working with those who are in these communities currently.

We're working with the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless and providing connectivity to One Stop and helping with their digital needs. We're looking at lighting up Ardenwood Village because they're another public housing and looking at expanding into that network. We're already talking with Miss Angela Machin and Baton Rouge African American Museum.

We're working with providing an interpretive services program with them that connects connectivity and oral history. We're also partnered with Baton Rouge Community College. If you go to the BRCC Acadian Campus, you can see one of our masks already erected there. And we're starting off our season this fall semester with a meet and greet with some of our employees.

And we're going to be partnering with them throughout the semester on digital education and, FAQs program, right? What is a speed test? What is Wi Fi? Things like that. to increase the navigational capacity around this digital divide that we're all trying to do. So we all have the same common language.

And while we're doing all this, we're also looking to being a local in and of the blue. So right now we're looking to hire both technical leads and installs. You don't have to have experience in this. We are looking to train people up. And then we're also looking for beta testers within the BRCC Acadian area to be accustomed, trial to see how our stuff works.

Making sure that we are able to provide the best quality of service and then within the next month or so We're going to be also looking for trial customers To you rather disconnect your current service But the idea is to help us evaluate our current service and as we're looking at this overall We also have future projects because digital the digital connectivity component is just the foundation And as we're looking at expanding our work increasing local employment opportunities connectivity with other local, state, federal agencies as well as the organizations on this call.

So with that, I went a little bit over, but I'm here and we'll be I'll be in town starting Monday, so we can also meet it up as well. I know Patrick and I have a lunch schedule.

Pepper Roussel: How festive! Alright I know that we are talking about back to school.

I am making sure that students have what they need in order to whether it is to advance from where they are or to get out of poverty. I just want to make it known that if I don't have the access to my guilty pleasure only murders in the building, then I get a little cranky about it. But what I don't understand is a couple of things that have already been said before.

We're gonna dig deep into these questions, a rapid fire 'cause we're not gonna have time enough to go. Into long discussions about all of them. But beneath something that you said, first and foremost, is that we're starting in the center of the state, somewhere around Brawls Parish or Lafourche and then moving upwards is where we have issues, right?

That's the problem start in the middle and then move upwards through the state. And so I want to know why is the problem there?

Veneeth Iyengar: No, so look, Pepper, the problem is everywhere. It just so happens, I guess my reference and I should have been a little bit more clear. My references to places like Lafourche and the Voiles and St. Martin and Iberia, it's just to it's to make the connotation that those projects are actually, are either underway, they're groundbroken or they're complete. But the access problem is everywhere. As Eric said, if you start to go to North, East Baton Rouge Parish, as you start to border West Feliciana, East Feliciana.

Then, those areas are pretty rural. So it's going to be access. If you look at the 70805 zip code, 70807 zip code, they have access, but it's an affordability thing, right? It's really going to be a little bit different than every parish.

Pepper Roussel: All right. And then the second question that I have is about the infrastructure.

So we've talked about that quite a bit, but what happens if you bury the lines underground? How does that impact the infrastructure? prepares. How does that impact service? If we go through a weather event, how does that work in order to keep us online better?

Veneeth Iyengar: So look, the reason why we're really focused on resilient infrastructure is for a couple of different reasons.

Number one what Hurricane Ida did to Louisiana, especially the southeast part of the state. And as it, first of all, these hurricanes aren't getting any weaker right as they get the as they get Louisiana in other parts of the country. And so what Hurricane Ida did was it really crippled our telecommunications infrastructure.

So that's one thing. And that's both mobility and fixed wireless infrastructure, right? The stuff you put on poles. But what typically occurs when a hurricane happens is the first thing that's really important to do is obviously from an infrastructure perspective after search and rescue is making sure power is restored.

And the power supply is regulated. Entergy, which is our large Provider of electricity in the large parts of the state. They're regulated by the PSC. So as soon as it powers out, they're on a shot clock. To effectively build back. Power infrastructure in places like Louisiana that have been affected.

But in the process of doing that. As infrastructure, as they lay the infrastructure. And as the crews come from all over the country. What they're invariably doing is digging up fiber lines and they're cutting fiber. So they're invariably cutting telecommunications infrastructure. So part of what we're trying to do in a bearing the infrastructure is to create resiliency, but also is better coordinate with the other utility providers to ensure that this infrastructure is either built not a couple of inches if buried underground, but not a couple of inches.

Potentially 12 to 18 inches, and I don't know, Eric, what the dig ones policy says in Baton Rouge in terms of how deep the infrastructure goes, but part of it is to bury the infrastructure as much as we can underground, but also north Louisiana, right? Because most of the fiber in rural areas are going to be stretched from pole to pole and it's aerial as opposed to underground infrastructure.

The second is that one of the things that we might do is designate certain areas in Louisiana as resilient zones. What resilient zones means are those areas and high in areas that are especially rural where if fiber does get cut, then we have alternative uses where people can communicate with their loved ones.

We've had people lose their lives because frankly, there's not a cell tower and there's not a way for people to communicate. And as a result, People have lost their lives in Louisiana and other parts of the country because they couldn't get 9 1 1 messages and notifications. Tornado coming. And part of our infrastructure dollars is to designate areas around the state as resilience zones so that we double down on, on resilience infrastructure, which isn't just underground construction, but different technologies that we can deploy to ensure people get connected.

Manny Patole: So If I may just. Build on what Veneeth said and talk a little bit more about the bakery stuff. One of the things that's unique about our stuff is we have something called a package mast. So if you've seen the salt towers, you know what they look like. Ours are a little bit of a slighter profile, but have already been tested for wind resistance and things like that.

But what's unique about ours is that it's collapsible. If you know a hurricane is coming it takes, and we've tested it at BRCC. It takes us about eight to nine minutes. to bring down the mass. And then once the storm goes away, we pop it back up in eight or nine minutes. Working with, folks like Veneeth and BRCC . And I think we're also talking some of the folks at Southern University Ag Center that is the idea of how can this also be used for those emergency services? How we can leverage our work. We have one that's going to be a permanent one that actually gets anchored in the ground. But we also have two masks already that are on trailers.

It can be deployed to different areas, whether it's for, a public football event or for a disaster recovery. And the idea there is, when we're looking at some of these places that, I've been talking about that don't have connectivity, that are, rural areas that are have terrain that's a little bit harder to get into stuff like this can be used to create a micro wireless mesh.

Basically a network thing over the sky that can actually provide some additional connectivity as well. And that's also because we're not necessarily digging, that kind of lowers our cost. Which also in turn lowers our price point for service for individual customers as well.

Pepper Roussel: That is crazy cool! Alright...

Manny Patole: folks, if you want to come see it, we also have it at BRCC. And we're always willing to see it.

Pepper Roussel: Oh, I enjoy field trips. And speaking of BRCC, there's a question in the chat about use of web for academic purposes. This was a little while back, but we are starting at the beginning, so I don't miss anybody. Don't know whether you're going to be able to answer this, but if anybody can tell me, how are students using the web now?

Do we know? And, oh, please do! And how does it impact their academic success?

Mia Ruffin: So I saw that earlier and I was thinking about it and I think part of the difference now is just in general, all of us are using the internet very differently. I think in general, the average person has a higher chance of being a creator, right?

They have a higher chance of engaging with their peers and there's a higher chance of them wanting to say things on the cloud. Whatever cloud you are using, whose type cloud it is. And so with that being said, it requires a lot more of a of an interaction with internet. It often requires more technology per household to create, to research, to have something that an artist, a creator, or just an average person would want to share.

So we're talking about maybe an Xbox. We're talking about smartwatch. We're talking about obviously a laptop and a tablet. We're talking about streaming on a TV. So if in any of these ways, Which I'm very sure all of us can think of, whether it's YouTube, Hulu some discovery channel, anything that you can pull information from, interpret it, recreate it, and then share it with your peers.

That in and of itself a student that is in a K 12 program or an undergrad, graduate, two, four year program. If they're just a hobbyist and they're wanting to inject their passion, their interest into their educational experience, just in and of itself, often amplifies the experience, right? But a lot of their tasks also, they rely on them having a a reliable sort of internet access.

Just in the past five years, how are we engaging? Oh, I think that was your question. If you want to unmute yourself and elaborate. I'd love to. Okay. Esperanza, that's for you.

Esperanza Zenon: Oh, okay. I didn't know that she was calling me out but yeah and I'll be honest that this has been quite some time ago since I actually did that research and I did it in Iberville and Ascension Parish with the middle school kids.

And basically at that time, what I found out was, In some form of fashion, most of the kids had access, whether it was going to a relative's house, going to a library the access that they had at school a good number of them didn't have access at home, but they could get to it other places. But when it came down to what they were using it for, as far as academics go, it was basically a glorified encyclopedia.

They were using it to find... Research an animal or, a person, but when it, but in terms of, activities that really help to solidify their, knowledge base or ability, critical thinking skills and those types of things that are typically found on the academic assessments that students have to engage with.

There was a significant divide there. I think the curve there, what I would imagine is one that was a couple of years ago, and I would speak to more that there was a an opportunity and a learning curve and maybe just an overall digital literacy learning curve for the teachers and the educational system in general.


And so that's exactly the case. Exactly. In ways that they could use the, that, that access. And so the core of academic achievement. Now, I don't know what I would find today if I replicated that type of study. I suspect it'll be better. If you're gauging the amount of time spent using the web for academic purposes versus just personal purposes, Especially in young Children, I suspect that academic purposes is going to come in way down the line in, in terms of the amount of time to spend.

Mia Ruffin: And I think to bring it back to the conversation and then I'll end it here pepper that part of the conversation about digital equity is very much. So one of The pillars of that is digital literacy. And so for us to all be able to bring in a more complicated, a more dynamic, a more lasting impact of what technology is available for us, all of us need to have better access to it.

Need to have the opportunity to be trained on these things so that they can test their students with these things. And then the students need to be able to have it at their home so that they can properly execute these tests and retain them. And that's how you really, it's, it takes years and it's developed over the years, but digital equity has many pillars when we talk about education.

Manny Patole: If I can interject to yourself, as I'm also an instructor at NYU. Thank you. And I work with other college students on K 12. It's also, it is exactly what Mia said. It is about how it's introduced to the instructors, but it's also how those instructors introduce it to the students, right? If you're giving it as an assignment, it's usually a little bit harder because some people are learners by doers, some people are auditory, whatever else, right?

For me, in my application, I usually try to introduce some of these tools. as an in class exercise so we all learn about it together and have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from each other. And then you build upon those skill sets throughout that time. But I have to say, one of the big things I've learned as a person who teaches is that I've become more of an English teacher and librarian than I have become anything else.

Because to Morgan's point about Boolean logic and how you're searching for things, then people do not know how to search and they just learn. And I love to reiterate how important and how happy I am that one, how important libraries are and how happy I am, Baton Rouge has such a great library system.

The idea of how to actually talk with your librarian to actually look for things. Google is okay for some basics, but when you're looking at doing actual research, like what Esperanza is saying, what we're trying to get to, the idea of how to actually instruct a question to create a sentence to actually do.

is a lot more difficult than people imagine. And when people are really scared about chat GPT and AI, the AI is always searching for whatever is actually existing out there. And whatever question you ask is what it's going to respond to. If you do not know how to articulate the question, and you do not know what you're asking for, you're not going to get the proper response.

So as an instructor, I usually ask students to do a handwritten assignment at the beginning of the semester, because that's how I know what their brain processes are. And you're going to improve, hopefully, over time and during class, but your general writing style is basically like a fingerprint. And if I see someone who looks like they've all of a sudden wrote something very polished, I know you did something, that you didn't do.

Either you paid someone, or you used some other tool, right? But the idea is, how do you help the students, I think someone brought it up before, the critical thinking aspect. Which is not a digital skill. That is a life skill. And how are you applying that life skill in the digital realm is the thing that we're trying to get to.

And to that end, once again, I'm here as Bakery, not as Co City, not as Build Baton Rouge. But one of the things that we're looking at partnering with maybe a school or someone, I know this professor, Tillman Bester has talked to me about this as well, is the computational modeling and remote sensing.

So we're trying to use our connectivity for a 6 through 12 program where you start people in this grade 6 or 7 middle school, learning how some of these sensors work, how they do what they do, and then by grade 12 to actually predict what flooding is going to happen in their neighborhood.

So the idea is how you actually start walking through students from the beginning through the end, like an apprenticeship program, but not. That's the way schools should, are looking at should be trying to aim for it. How do you build upon the skills from the previous year, and then actually apply them in the real world?

However, most of us are taught to teach towards the test, and sometimes that doesn't work in the real world. And then you end up people, having people, when they go to industry, I only know how to put X and Y to make Z. What happens if, Q is put into the equation? I don't know. I only know X and Y to make Z.

The critical thinking.

Pepper Roussel: I don't know who doesn't ask their librarian questions. I love librarians. They are amazing human beings.

Manny Patole: Every semester, I have my librarians teach two classes, one in the beginning for general research, and then two specifically for their final project. Inevitably, the students that actually go to the librarians always get an A, and the ones who fake it end up getting a C to an F.

Pepper Roussel: Same, and that's what I was just about to, I saw this meme saying that lawyers are basically attack librarians, and I've never been more proud. There is a question in the chat. For you, Eric how does you, how does the plan coordinate with decisions from zoning commission as it relates to private sector development?

Eric Romero: So for private sector development, if we're talking, if we're talking residential, it will probably have minimal impact. But where we're seeing that the impact will be more in the major thoroughfares not the last mile. So because the developers while it would still apply, but the ISPs, what internet service providers would need to work with the developers as for that last mile to get a piece of fiber or some type of cable out to the house the dig once is really where we see it's going to help is on the major corridor.

Let's think about as we're I think MovieBR has a big component on Plank Road. As we break up the roads there, is there sufficient is there an opportunity for an ISP to come in and lay condo with as down Plank Road to further facilitate, whether it's an existing ISP, or maybe it's going to help spur.

competition and maybe a smaller ISP can come in and maybe even if they're servicing just one section of the parish and not the entire parish like the big boys are. So that's where we're seeing it. Planning and zoning are aware of the of the project. So they once we ended and we're in the very early stages of it, we have the ordinance.

Now we're building out all the components for advertising and such. So they're going to help. Spread that word as developments happen that, hey, we have to dig once and here's all the criteria for it because there are a lot of the technical aspects of beneath it. I question what our depth is. I don't have that off the top of my head, but it was it was vetted by a lot of the utilities that are already putting equipment in the ground because we didn't want to put something at a different elevation.

Or depth in the ground than what the utilities are traditionally doing. And then at that point, if we'd have that disconnect, then they wouldn't be participating in the project.

Pepper Roussel: Thank you much. Veneeth, this one's for you. There's 64 parishes. How long is it going to? What's the completion timeline for getting all of them connected?

Veneeth Iyengar: Five years. It's going to take some time because it's just fundamental, construction, maintenance. And it's what the challenge that we're now having based on the awarding of these projects now is and I'll give you as a very specific example that we're going to have to address collectively is the projects are moving so quickly that they're breaking water mains in a lot of areas around the state.

And so when it, and that's partly because, and I think this is common throughout the country. No one's really ever figured out what's actually underground in terms of infrastructure, where the gas lines are, where the water mains are, and a lot of this infrastructure. So what we're now seeing is as work gets built underground, you break a water main, there's a water boil and so on and so forth.

So we need to address some of those challenges when it comes to making sure we better coordinate all of our efforts when construction happens.

Eric Romero: I want to second that from the City Parish perspective and we're big in the GIS so we're mapping everything that we can. It's amazing how the utilities that put equipment under the ground many, many years ago, they don't even know where all of their equipment is.

They don't.

Manny Patole: Yep. Yeah. So as a person who's worked with a guy like Beneath at New York State right when I was working at Parks, we had a fixed asset utility mapping project. And usually you have something called as planned, right? So that's what the drawings were for, what you wanted to envision, the ideal scenario.

Then you have the as built, which are usually never updated to the as planned. And then you have the local entities who are constantly doing the work and don't have the time to actually update all those things. And that's on the analog side. And then when you think about that transfer from the analog to the digital different people are using different programs.

What is the walkthroughs that they all connect through? And then it's also what's their nomenclature and their taxonomy behind their work. So some person may have a different number and it might be, deeper than you anticipated, or it's a equipment that's non existent or, extinct at this point.

Or if you're in New York City, you find wooden water mains when you're trying to dig for fiber,

Veneeth Iyengar: Yeah, and look, Rev.. Anderson, it is frightening in the sense that part of it is, it's like, it's really no one's fault, right? Because we've never had this velocity of infrastructure dollars that's, has to be invested in a very concentrated piece of time, especially in rural areas, right?

And so a lot of these rural areas will probably have someone that understands where all the water lines are. He retired, he or she retired years and years ago. It's in their minds where everything is. And which means we need to then build a workforce on people that know how to locate these lines. And how do we encourage people who want to work in 150 degrees?

It's getting hotter and hotter. Standing out there sitting we next to an I S P internet service provider saying, no, don't build there. You're gonna build a WA break water. Anyway, it's a, again, a series, another cascading set of challenges that we need to solve for which we can. And so I'm actually meeting with the Louisiana Municipal Association and the Police Jury Association of Louisiana on Monday, having a call with them on one o'clock on how we could better coordinate some of these challenges

Mia Ruffin: hey, I just wanted to catch you before you pulled another question. I know we were coming to the end and I just want to bring the conversation not back because all of this has to do with digital equity. But I think there are certain things that are like very technical and important, but the equitable demonstration of technological Growth and progress is a little bit more simple than some of the more theoretical stuff and so I just wanted to say that digital equity really does play out in the ways that we see each other in terms of identity, in terms of and all of that.

And so I just wanted to say if I just so we can be informed about who Louisiana is and where Louisiana is. So where is the need? So digital inequity affects these different populations as I'm about to read. So people of color disproportionately suffer. 43% of Louisiana is not white. Indigenous people disproportionately suffer when we talk about digital inequity, and that represents over 360, 000 Louisianians.

Low income households, over 17%. And very recently, I looked into that numbers more like 20% of our state lives in poverty, people with disabilities. So 11%, which I've seen recently, that number is higher. Than 11% of Louisianans live with a disability. The rural areas, nearly 26% of our population. So over a fourth, that's over 1.

2 million people live in rural areas and the elderly who are having to adjust to the heat and the water and the flooding in a very different way than a lot of the rest of us, right? They are 16. 5% of our population, or at least 16. 5% of our population is 65 years and older. My parents would, they aren't 65 yet, but they probably wouldn't be happy with me saying that's elderly.

But, we have a bunch of folks who are who love this place and are very happy to be here. And so we have to take broadband and digital equity concerns and conversations, not just in the technical direction, but also in the very lived experience of identities and bodies and how you occupy Louisiana.

We have to be part of that, too. I and I can't wait to be older. By the way, I love the discounts that I go outside with my older relatives. So that is I'm excited.

Pepper Roussel: That's exactly what I'm talking about. Good, Manny. I have been wildly distracted. Everybody ever since somebody said underground, maybe it was me and all I can hear in my head is the great part. No, man, the great the late great poet laureate shock tree shock G. My sounds laid down by the underground.

I drink up all the Hennessy you got on your shelf. Anyway, fine. I'll be all by myself. So there are.

No, I see Pat remembers. Thank you, Pat's iPhone. All right, so there's questions in the chat that I want to make sure that at least we hit on. Are there any sorts of Communications or collaborations that are going on with hospitals and what are we doing in order to center and to ignore even acknowledge?

The immigrant communities who are as Mia just mentioned disproportionately impacted by lack of access It will once you start layering in different types of barriers, whether it be income or neighborhood, race, language then of course you're complicating the problem that much more. What, do we have anything that is, or any sort of plan in place?

Manny, I'll mention, you mentioned that y'all are working with BRCC. Is there anything more that's going on?

Manny Patole: Yeah, so we have a couple of things that we're looking at. Of course there's the Baton Rouge African American Museum. I know Fletcher may not be aware of this and with Dr. Bell that we, we got approached by someone from Vardir about working with one of the churches out there to help with some stuff there folks, we're open to partnering and working with whomever is available and part of this is all for us as to how we become redundant, right?

The idea is that we want to make sure that we build up enough community capacity that Those local hires become the managers, and as we start expanding we'll provide the service to that, 5 to 20 percent, not 80 percent. And we want to make sure that is for all of those 5 to 20 percent those who are included in those work.

And yeah, and we, and part of all this stuff when we're talking about the education side, it's always put in English for most of the time. It's always, it's not digitally accessible. in other languages when you're able to do it elsewhere, obviously in other places since it's a non local language.

But we're thinking about stuff here, and that's part of the problem I put in there about machine learning and natural language processing, which is a couple of steps removed from this conversation, but love to work with folks, NISQ communities that we're in.

And yes, we're talking about everything from... The broadband stuff to the educational component, and then also the computational modeling and remote sensing. And we have a couple of other things that we're working with, you and Tom and some of those other folks, fabulous folks. And also with Pat, Scott and Bill, we haven't forgot about you.

Pepper Roussel: And from a policy perspective, are we doing anything in order to increase Decrease the existence of digital deserts or the digital divide. The question specific about tax policy. But do we have anything again from a policy perspective that's in the works in order to discourage private high end development?

Veneeth Iyengar: So in a nutshell, and I know we're running out of time, but in a nutshell A, we have to ensure that everyone in Louisiana receives high speed, affordable, reliable internet. And so we can't solve, we're not going to be successful if we solve 95% of the problems so the 200, 000 remaining locations that don't have internet, we need to ensure and guarantee that they each have access to something they've never had.

Number two is it has to be affordable. So in our initial proposal, they have to prescribe to the affordable connectivity program. In fact, we sent a sign on letter. That we drafted with over 50 different organizations from around the state from the NAACP to the Urban League to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

It's really an interesting cast of characters all requesting our congressional delegation to to really make sure that ACP is reauthorized because it is on track to run out of money this time next year. And then the third is, obviously we might use some of our excess and extra funds to.

Build into affordability as part of some of the challenges that we see in terms of that dislocation in terms of getting someone access and making sure it's truly affordable in areas that need it the most. Will likely also pitch a middle class affordability plan because you also know that these are the definitions are skewed when it comes to both low cost and middle class.

Middle class is often, it could be a very, you could be a considered middle class and still have issues around affordability. So we'll create mechanisms around addressing some of the affordability challenges for those that are considered in middle class as well.

Manny Patole: And yes, to build on the ACP I've been trying to contact and connect with folks there about, ACP is usually connected with the individual.

And the idea is that how do you actually affordability.

Pepper Roussel: That's what I was just about to ask you. Can you break that down for us? ACP Alice populations, especially since the need has mentioned, which is true that even middle class folks have trouble

Manny Patole: comes during the pandemic to help those who can't necessarily afford internet service, a rebate of up to 30 bucks, depending on their situation for their connectivity access.

And it's to be able to be eligible, right? You have to be either, receiving other sorts of public assistance benefits, SNAP, WIC housing vouchers, things like that. The application itself is not very difficult, but once again, you need to have internet. You need to know all these numbers and things like that, and then go from there.

Thank you, Veneeth . We're looking forward to talking to you later. But yeah, so with the ACP, one of the things I've been trying to figure out is if you have places like public housing, places that you are in concentrated sections of people with these issues. Can you connect the ACP to the unit and not the individual?

Right now, it's not connected to the unit is connected to the individual because it is a question of how the services are moving from person to person or moving with the person to the different locations. And it's one of the things that I'd love to take up on take on as a policy agenda of making it anyone who's in public housing.

And yeah, and then when we're talking about asset, Alice population, I know we've had a few. United Way on here. It's an asset limited income constraint, but employed. Basically, you're working for, most of us are in that group, right? You're only one or two paychecks away from, a disaster there.

But yeah, so it is a lot of stuff out there. We just have to keep pushing our officials and those who are in the halls of power to see the value of ACP for right now until something better and more robust can be of service for those who you. I'll leave to hear that.

Dean Andrews: Pepper. There's also been programs in terms of connecting minority communities here at Southern University. We're participating with the Law Center in a 3 million project in terms of connecting minority communities. So this basically provided infrastructure and equipment and will also more or less provide for services that can be provided to communities surrounding the HBCUs.

Pepper Roussel: Absolutely brilliant. Thanks to both of you for sharing that information. Dean Andrews, do you know, when you say the community around Southern, like how far is that, like five miles, 10 miles, 15, or is it just the immediate?

Dean Andrews: 13 mile radius. I think we've identified about 30 community organizations we're going to be working with. We also have put in the chat, we have a conference coming up. September 10 through 12 with the Tunica, Biloxi, and Marksville. Veneeth is going to be one of the speakers and broadband is one of the major topics, but it's looking at economic development in rural areas.

Pepper Roussel: Absolutely brilliant. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And Veneeth has already dropped off because we are over time a little bit. I want to make sure and honor your time and your ability and to say thank you. Thank you so much to everyone who is here today to share information. And Dean Andrews, the question is the conference in Marksville, physically in Marksville?

Dean Andrews: It's in Marksville, but we're going to have a shuttle bus going from Southern Campus to Marksville.

Pepper Roussel: Because why would you not? Honestly.

And it looks like there are some go ahead students. Yes, it looks like there's some additional things. Thank you, Manny for dropping in the chat. Yes, terrific conversation today. Thanks for everything. Are there any pressing questions that we need to get answered before y'all go? I can see you trying to get off.

We've lost a few people. That's all right, though.

Manny Patole: I'm in town from the 14th

Pepper Roussel: So Fantastic. So we've got a couple of important announcements. Helena, I want to give you the floor first and then maybe if you can just repeat the necessity to train some folks and to make sure that we have folks around who can do the job.

Helena ?

Helena Williams: Yeah. Hi. With our program, the Futures Fund we teach digital literacy training. And so we have workshops as well as full courses that are available weeknights as well as Saturdays. We're working with the library system to put the workshops in at local libraries as well. We're just securing those dates.

And so we'll teach a wide variety of things, but just technical skills so that people who are interested in getting more digital literacy training have access to it.

Manny Patole: Yeah. And for me as we're looking at it, first of all, Futures Fund all their programs, great. And we're looking for installers so you don't have to have any experience, but, the will to work, high school education, driver's license is required. We are not doing criminal background checks.

We are looking at people for second, third chances, because we know sometimes this you do what you plan. And as we're looking for these jobs, we're looking for people that are mobile. We're also looking for technical. to work with us on the installs, but also the management of the warehouse thing.

And as we start expanding our work, we're looking at everything along the supply chain. So customer service, fabrication, warehouse management, installers, troubleshooting, FAQs, so on and so forth. So feel free to connect with me. I'll put my bakery email in there so we're not crossing streams. And love to hear from you.

I will be in town from Monday, the 14th through Thursday, the 24th, I believe.

Pepper Roussel: Thank you much. Reverend Anderson.

Rev. Alexis Anderson: This was so good. Can I just say that just, I want to give a big shout out to a tool at our library that I think sometimes people don't realize that we have, which is our Career Center. And that where workforce is, wonderful, but in EBR, we have a career center that will go anywhere and we'll work with private groups, we'll work with public groups, we'll do all of that.

It's at, it's based at the Goodwood library. But I wanted to give them a shout out because Exxon Mobil Just opened up for some hiring, and they had over 250 people who signed up and showed up for a workshop they did to help teach people how to actively go through that process. I just wanted to remind people, number one library system in the country, and that is what is happening in EBR, I'm just saying.

Manny Patole: And I know that me and I have been discussing this as well, and we're trying to figure out maybe a local partner on the idea of the digital employment atmosphere, right? How are people draft, that are drafting resumes, cover letters, setting up their LinkedIn? So maybe working with, I don't know, with Casey and Helena from Rawls or others on maybe setting up a series of workshops that we can do with the community.

Because as we've seen, some people just haven't been taught that or had the experience of needing that. And then how as I found out my my headshots backwards. So maybe we start doing some headshots as well for folks. But yeah, all these little things they add up to things that make yourself more marketable, right?

How do you sell the sizzle and not the steak, right?

Flitcher Bell: Hey man, just an FYI, the East Baton Rouge library system already have a lot of those workshops lined up that they do for free the contact I can get her information to you.

Pepper Roussel: Sure. Gorgeous. Speaking of jobs, I just want to remind y'all that we are hiring an ops person to work with Blond Rouge.

That will be the yin to my yang, the almond butter to my pepper jelly. And it will be a person who will handle the other side of things. It well has grown too big for me to do on my own.

Manny Patole: Real talk, what kind of pepper jelly? I prefer raspberry.

Yeah, speaking of

Casey Phillips: that was hilarious. So speaking of one rouge, just as a reminder to everyone who's on the line next week, we will be meeting in person at the downtown library for all of our in person coalition meetings. Just as a reminder, we move around to a different library. Our different public space every quarter and this week coming up.

Tuesday will have the education to career. Wednesday will be cafe and Thursday will be transportation and mobility. Those will all be at noon. Lunch will be provided. So show up a little early. network and then we'll get right down to business. We know that there's a lot of demands on everybody's time.

We'll be maximizing the time together in the work group setting and moving the work forward for the through the end of the year and we hope to see everybody in live and direct next week at the downtown library.

Pepper Roussel: Fantastic. Do we have anything going on this weekend? Oh, hey, Reverend Anderson.

Rev. Alexis Anderson: I wanted to share something that I guess is less an announcement, but more of a in keeping with our nine drivers of poverty, a cheer. I was over at the Carver library yesterday because we're having a I need housing community town hall.

So we were doing something and it turned out that they had these bags 14 snack bags and I asked some questions and it turns out that Carver library is running a food bank. And the reason they're running a food bank is because the Children who come to the library were hungry. And so they partnered with one of the community organizations who said, What?

What is it that y'all need? And they said, We need to feed the Children and they are now running a food bank. And what I thought was so spectacular about that. And that's why I yell from the top of the rooftop. We literally have the best library system in the country. They saw the need, they addressed the need, and those babies now come in there because they were already there, but they come in there and they can trust three things.

One is that somebody's going to meet their need. The second one was the librarian told me that the students bring their report cards to show them. And the second thing is every child. Can come into that facility and I just wanted to share that because I literally left and cried and I went right down to the council person for that district and said, you all need to come and see that because the village takes care of the village and that's what I wanted to leave on this Friday is that our village is kicking it.

I just need to say that.

Pepper Roussel: Thank you so much. Reverend Anderson. I love that Erin . Thank

Erin: Okay. You can hear me now, right? Okay. Speaking of the village taking care of the village, I have an organization called Black Wellness. I am putting together a Black Wellness Health Fair for November. Anybody that wants to be a vendor or a sponsor, we're gonna have kids activities. We're gonna have all the health screenings.

We will have cooking demonstrations, healthy food options. Just putting that bug in everybody's ear. That is coming up November four.

Pepper Roussel: Alright, so healthy food options. Does that mean I can still get a funnel cake and I just have the option for carrot sticks? I don't know. What do we do?

Erin: No, ma'am. I'm sorry. We gotta do better. We gotta do better.

Pepper Roussel: What about carrot funnel cake? Bro, come on. Come on.

Erin: We may be able to bend the rules a little bit. We will not break them.

Pepper Roussel: Okay. Fine. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks to all of you who are here and spent part of your Friday morning with me and how much means to me. If y'all can participate in any of these programs that are coming up, whether it be this weekend or any weekend.

Also remember one of the things that went out in the notes is please share the WiFi to go. So that those who actually do need and get access and otherwise we'll see y'all back here next Friday. Same bat time, same bat family. Without the funnel cake.


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