A person works on a laptop.

The Livingston Parish Council has approved the creation of a committee to address broadband and connectivity within the parish, the first step in tackling a need that has become “a requirement for doing business in the 21st Century.”

The resolution was a late addition to the agenda for Thursday’s council meeting, which was held via Zoom amid Livingston Parish’s surge in COVID-19 cases.

Council members unanimously approved the resolution, passing it on a 9-0 vote.

Dubbed “Link Up LIVINGston,” the 11-person committee features representatives from several governing entities and private organizations. The bill was sponsored by Garry Talbert, of District 2, who credited Rep. Buddy Mincey, Jr., for kick-starting the process.

“This was his brainchild,” Talbert said.

Local agencies represented on the committee include the local school system, the library system, the council, the chamber of commerce, the sheriff’s office, and the Town of Livingston.

Other agencies represented include Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, Southeastern Louisiana University, Showers Enterprises, and U.S. Congressman Garret Graves’ office.

And they all have “a big task” ahead of them, Mincey told council members.

“This is a significant issue,” Mincey said during the zoom call. “Right now throughout the state, there’s a tremendous interest in increasing broadband.”

“We have a really good group representing all of our stakeholders,” he said later, “and they have a big task ahead of them.”

The need to look into broadband connectivity has been discussed in Livingston Parish for years, but it has grown in importance since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Broadband (broad bandwidth) is any connection that allows data to move quickly from the internet to a device.

In Louisiana, broadband is defined as connections with minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second download (when things load from the internet to your computer or device) and 3 megabits per second upload (when you send something from your computer or device out to the internet).

According to the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, around 450,000 Louisianans lack access to at least 25:3 Mbps, the minimum standard for broadband. The office also said that 43.6 percent Louisianans do not have access to a low-cost internet plan.

The “digital divide” – the gap between those with and without adequate broadband access – became even more apparent in the parish once the pandemic struck and forced school, work and healthcare to shift online.

Tackling this divide has been the goal of the newly-formed Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, which is assisting local and state entities to make broadband access available in every part of the state by 2029.

Recently, Mincey organized a broadband summit with stakeholders from more than a dozen entities. He said his goal with the summit was to “start a conversation” to work toward a broadband solution, especially with the amount of federal dollars that are available.

“I think everyone recognizes the importance of broadband,” Mincey told council members. “Everything we learned with COVID is how important it is to every aspect of our lives.”

Talbert, who along with several other council members attended the summit, said the “Link Up” committee is likely the first of its kind in Livingston Parish.

“​It’s just a way of getting a bunch of different organizations together… and different people to work in conjunction to get as many federal dollars in as we can to expand broadband in the parish,” he said.

“There are a lot of dollars out there, and the deadline on some of them is approaching. So we’re just trying to get some people together to work as a committee to identify where we need to move forward and do the stuff we’re supposed to do.”

The newly-approved resolution called the benefits of broadband “wide-reaching and comprehensive,” adding that they affect all aspects of life, including education, healthcare, economics, and safety.

“Broadband has become a requirement for doing business in the 21st Century,” the resolution states.

According to the resolution, Link Up LIVINGston will appoint a “Digital Navigator” who will represent the Livingston Parish Council and President. This person will “coordinate broadband efforts with the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity to further their efforts,” according to the resolution.

In the event of any vacancies, the committee will vote to fill the position.

“The committee will pretty much be self-governing once it’s established,” Talbert said.

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