Thursday was a good day for Teles Fremin, a project manager with the Lafayette Utilities System’s LUS Fiber operation and a native New Iberian.
“This is an opportunity for me to bring together two things that I love — fiber and New Iberia,” she said.
Fremin was one of several officials from Lafayette, Iberia and St. Martin parishes speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon to announce a federal grant that will allow LUS Fiber to expand its services into the Teche Area.
“We’ll be targeting businesses, business parks and downtown New Iberia,” Fremin said.
It is expected the completion of the fiber network expansion will take anywhere from 18 months to two years. Construction is scheduled to begin in the summer.
Iberia Parish president Larry Richard, who helped to bring the project together, said he thinks the new connectivity is a big deal for the parish and its commercial prospects.
“Fiber is truly the fundamental network technology for the 21st century, providing the needed underlying infrastructure to ensure residents and businesses have access to reliable, future-proof internet,” Richard said. “This is an initiative I’ve sought for years knowing it would have a substantially positive economic impact in our area.”
Most of the money for the work will come from an Economic Development Administration grant. The EDA, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, will provide $3.1 million for the expansion of the LUS Fiber network along a 47-mile route that will encompass the U.S. Highway 90 corridor to bring high-speed internet service to portions of both St. Martin and Iberia parishes.
The total bill for the project is expected to be $3.8 million, with LUS providing the $700,000 in matching funds to secure the grant.
“Decisions that we make today about broadband expansion will determine which of Acadiana’s towns will survive in the future,” said Monique Boulet, CEO of the Acadiana Planning Commission. “Those left behind in broadband delivery will be just that — left behind.”
It is envisioned the new fiber loop will bring service to 650 businesses along the U.S. 90 corridor, to include the new Iberia Parish 911 Center, the Acadiana Regional Airport, the Port of Iberia, and four industrial parks.
St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars said he is excited about the project, which will bring broadband connectivity to the St. Martin Economic Development Authority’s SMEDA Industrial Park, which is located on the Lafayette/St. Martin Parish line.
“When they were telling me about the project, I said, ‘Wait a minute! You got to go through St. Martin Parish to get to Iberia Parish,’” Cedars said, drawing a laugh from the collection of officials and journalists in the room. “When they said the fiber would take a left turn and hit our SMEDA Industrial Park, it was a great day.”
The fiber network will also provide service to residences and neighborhoods along the route, according to Fremin. Although she did not want to get into particulars regarding the route that the fiber optic cable would follow, she did say that the plan is to build beyond the initial goal of getting stable broadband service to commercial areas.
“In all areas, we will be building out to include any residences, single homes or neighborhoods,” Fremin said. “We will be building to account for future growth.”