Veneeth Iyengar

When Telecompetitor interviewed Veneeth Iyengar, executive director for ConnectLA, Louisiana’s broadband office, late last month, we asked him a question we’ve been asking virtually all state broadband officials: Was he concerned that there might be areas of the state that no provider would want to serve?

His answer came as a surprise.

“We’re not concerned,” said Iyengar. “It’s all in how you design the program. We will create as much competition as possible… Part of it is we’re technology neutral.”

The state, which will receive $1.3 billion in BEAD funding, will accept applications for providers planning to use fixed wireless access (FWA) or even satellite services, he said.

Those plans might seem to be at odds with BEAD program rules that call for awardees to deploy fiber broadband except in extremely high-cost areas, where awardees will be able to use fixed wireless access (FWA) and certain other technologies, but not satellite broadband.

Iyengar’s comments are particularly surprising, considering that the NTIA, which is administering the BEAD program, already approved volume one of Lousisiana’s initial BEAD proposal. Indeed, Louisiana was the first state to gain that approval.

So, what gives?

The answer relates to how Louisiana plans to define high-cost areas.

“We will define it at the end of the bid process,” said Iyengar. “We don’t want to be boxed in.”

Resilient Infrastructure

Another area where Louisiana is thinking outside the box involves resilient infrastructure, which Iyengar sees as a means of avoiding loss of life during hurricanes and other emergencies.

Volume two of the state’s initial proposal, which is currently under review by NTIA, calls for funding applicants to get extra points if their plans call for at least 90% buried fiber plant.

The state also proposes to award extra points for applicants that propose the deployment of new wireless towers if deployment plans meet certain requirements, such as using galvanized steel poles anchored to structural concrete pads and designed to meet certain wind load standards.

Perhaps most ambitiously, the proposal also calls for awarding funding for mobile infrastructure in areas lacking 3G or faster service.

“The state finds that a lack of at least minimal 3G service . . . poses an extreme risk to local communities from weather emergencies and other climate-driven natural disasters,” the proposal says.

BEAD funding applicants that propose to deploy mobile service in the eligible areas also will get extra points.  

Moving Forward

Louisiana was able to maximize its BEAD funding, in part, because it challenged the FCC broadband serviceable locations data in time to have it impact the allocations.

According to Iyengar, Louisiana filed 81,000 location challenges and nearly a quarter were accepted.

The state was not able to file availability challenges in time to have them impact the allocations, but Iyengar views the locations data as having been more critical.

Iyengar expects to begin accepting applications for BEAD funding in the first quarter of 2024.

The state anticipates awarding funding in one big round with two phases.

The ConnectLA office also administers the GUMBO broadband deployment funding program, which was funded through $176.7 million that was awarded to the state from the federal Capital Projects Fund (CPF). That was another first for the state: Louisiana was the first state to have its CPF allocation released.

The state now has awarded almost all that funding, and administrators currently are focused primarily on the BEAD program.

Surprisingly, considered all it has accomplished, the Louisiana broadband office has a staff of just three, with room for one more.

How did the office get so much done so quickly?

“We have a really good team,” said Iyengar.

More information about Louisiana broadband, including links to state funding resources, awardees and Telecompetitor news coverage, can be found on the Broadband Nation page for Louisiana.

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