FRANKLIN — The owner of a Lafayette rural internet service provider has plans to bring high speed internet to the rural areas of St. Mary Parish, beginning with Sorrel.
Chris Fisher, owner of Cajun Broadband, pitched his plans to the St. Mary Parish Council on Wednesday, detailing a grant he will submit to the GUMBO program, in which he asks for $800,000 to provide internet service to 591 residents in Sorrel.
GUMBO stands for the Granting Underserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program, a program that is set up to decide how Louisiana will spend more than $180 million in federal funds, to provide broadband and internet access to 400,000 households statewide, but specifically in underserved communities.
Gov. John Bel Edwards approved a legislative bill in 2020, that creates the Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity and a board, that will make monetary decisions on statewide requests, while keeping him apprised of broadband rural activity.
Fisher said he grew up in St. Mary Parish and graduated from Morgan City High School.
He has been the only internet provider to address the St. Mary Parish Council on the opportunity over the past six months.
The parish council approved a resolution supporting Fisher’s Phase I Plan and forthcoming plans to connect spotty areas of the parish with internet.
They also agreed to allocate an $80,000 match to show their support to Phase 1 of Fisher’s plans, the Sorel community.
Fisher said he has plans for a second phase that includes Four Corners.
“I didn’t realize the need for rural broadband until I started my company, which began initially because my kids couldn’t get internet,” Fisher said.
Mathews, along with Parish Chief Administrative Officer Henry “Bo” LaGrange, thanked Fisher for his interest in St. Mary Parish.
“We as a parish can’t provide this service to our residents, we have to work with a private vendor who can,” Mathews said.
Fisher estimates it will cost $10 to $15 million to connect the rural areas of the parish with internet. He said it will cost $2 million to connect the Four Corners area.
Mathews said approving a resolution for Fisher is like finally, “putting the rubber to the road.”
“We’ve talked about this for years, and we all agree that we need to do something to increase access for all of the citizens of our parish, and not just the affluent ones. This is a do or die, once in lifetime opportunity.”
In other business, the council voted to reject a proposal to enter into a contract with Geographic Planning & Demographics Services of Duson, for services to prepare Reapportionment Plan for the St. Mary Parish Council, as per the results of the 2000 Census.
The plan was submitted by Mike Hefner, the firm’s demographer.
Hefner’s results showed three large population declines including a decline of 661 persons in District 1, which is represented by Councilman Rev. Craig Mathews, and a decline of 385 persons in District 2, represented by Councilman Jay Ina. These two districts are the parish minority districts.
District 8 saw a decline of 254 persons, which is represented by Councilman Patrick Hebert.
Reapportionment Plans nationwide set the number of Congressional Seats States are allowed in Congress. However locally, the plans also decide equal voting precincts.
Councilman James Bennett said he could not vote for Hefner’s because his work is being challenged by several lawsuits against his company from other parishes.
Hefner was not present at the council meeting on Wednesday to defend himself or his proposal.