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Residents of rural areas of north Louisiana are one step closer to getting broadband internet service.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission gave the Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative of Winnsboro final approval to enter the internet business on Wednesday.
The commission voted unanimously to authorize a $45 million loan request for NELPCO’s subsidiary, Volt Broadband, NELPCO General Manager Jeff Churchwell said in a news release.
“The biggest thing missing in north Louisiana is being connected to the world,” Churchwell said. “We are delighted to be able to provide this service.”
The rural electric cooperative and its subsidiary will partner with Conexon Connect, an Internet service provider in Kansas City, Missouri, to conduct a two-year build-out of the fiber-based internet service. Conexon is currently partners with electric cooperatives to offer broadband service in Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi and Florida.
CoBank of Washington, DC, a lender to the nation’s electric cooperatives, will furnish the loan.
June 2021: NELPCO approves plan to offer broadband services in rural areas
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell said the commission fought to get high-speed Internet service for rural Louisiana and the Northeast Louisiana Power Co-Op worked hard on the initiative.
“We’ve put it together and so every member in their co-op, if they want it, will be able to get high-speed Internet to their homes,” Campbell said. “It’s a good program they have mapped out. We’ve checked it out inside out. Financially, I think it will work.”
Luke Piontek of Baton Rouge, attorney for NELPCO, said members of the Winnsboro co-op will be able to sign up for internet service during the two-year construction phase. He said pricing will start at $59 per month.
“That was one of the most important things that we could make sure service would be affordable for the people,” Campbell said. “I’m real excited about it. I worked hard with those people over there. They did a good job.”
Construction on the broadband service is expected to start next month.
“We surveyed our members at the request of Commissioner Campbell and found overwhelming support” for entering the internet business, Churchwell said. A follow-up mail survey of all 11,500 NELPCO members confirmed their interest, he said.
Campbell said he was initially skeptical and concerned about the proposal due to its impact on co-op electric rates.
More: In Louisiana, many still lack broadband access
“I just want to make sure it worked and it was successful,” Campbell said. “If it wasn’t, when they borrowed this money, it was going to have to be paid back and they didn’t have to go back on all of their members and say, ‘We’re going to have to have a rate increase.'”
Campbell said Northeast Louisiana has the cheapest utility rates in the state, and some of the cheapest rates in the country.
“We love the rates over there because it helps people and attract industry but we need high-speed Internet to compliment the real reasonable rate.” he said. “I wanted to make sure that this thing was a success.”
Campbell said he expects Claiborne Electric of Homer and Concordia Electric of Jonesville will be the next Louisiana co-ops to offer internet service.
“I want all of the people of North Louisiana connected,” Campbell said.
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