Acadiana - A new report from the Acadiana Planning Commission and UL-Lafayette found that slow internet is strangling job growth and education in the region’s rural towns.
Some of the data found in this report may be surprising with certain areas of Acadiana having some of the worst internet speeds in the entire nation.
"Initially took a step back and had to look at some of the data a couple of times because I didn’t believe how low some of the numbers were," Acadiana Business Economist and Economic professor Doctor Gary Wagner said.
Wagner says previous data showed an increase of 20,000 jobs in Acadiana following an expansion to broadband internet between 2014 and 2018 but there's opportunity for more.
"Getting access to more areas is going to expand the opportunity for jobs," Wagner said. "I think it’s also, from the pandemic, we’re seeing that that’s going to be even more important going forward."
Wagner says the lack of quality internet in rural areas stems from the narrow margin for profit due to a lower population compared to more urban areas but also a lack of education of how important good internet is.
"Some people might not be aware of the fact that what the capabilities of additional broadband would mean to them," Wagner said. "So they think, ‘hey I’ve been able to get by on whatever internet access I have, and I can just continue doing that going forward.'"
The lack of quality internet in rural Acadiana not only has an effect on the economy and jobs but education as well with the internet becoming an absolute necessity due to virtual schooling.
"After covid and even before covid, students have become increasingly dependent, or at least their requirement has become greater that they need internet access to help with homework," Chad Lacomb said, Economic Development Planner for the Acadiana Planning Commission.
Lacomb says performance scores reflected poorly in areas where students may not have had reliable access to the internet during periods of virtual learning.
"Our performance scores have shown a definite decline in students who haven’t been able to log on and do their schoolwork and log on to the classes that are being offered during the pandemic," he said.
The full report can be found here: planacadiana.org.