Government officials, community leaders and educators discussed the current situation and the future of Internet connectivity in rural areas of Louisiana at the Connect My Louisiana broadband summit held on Jan. 15.

The summit featured success stories, speakers and educational modules that showcased the effective uses of modern technology, according to Dwight Landreneau, associate vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter.

“The original plan was to have a statewide summit in central Louisiana, but we decided to have mini summits like this in four or five areas across the state,” Landreneau said.

Topics covered at the summit included broadband and connectivity issues and the value of broadband Internet availability in rural areas.

Valerie Vincent, the Connect My Louisiana coordinator for the LSU AgCenter in southeast Louisiana, said there has been an increase in the availability of broadband Internet service in some areas of the state, but some people are still not participating.

“We believe that it is mainly some trust issues,” Vincent said. “But as we continue to provide training for these rural residents and show them some of the things ‘being connected’ can do for them, there is more participation as time goes by.”

Residents in 18 Louisiana parishes where broadband service is underused or unavailable are invited to attend the classes to learn the value of high-speed Internet access with help from the LSU AgCenter.

A large number of Washington Parish’s 46,000 residents are among those with low broadband Internet availability, but according to parish technology director, Dempsey Parden that is changing. Only about 14,000 of the parish’s residents live in an urban area, so there’s a push to bring the rural residents high-speed Internet at a reasonable cost.

“Right now the choice is spend about $150 million or come with some type of wireless product,” Parden said.

The parish is leaning toward the wireless product, which cost $150 to install and $50 per month for access.

“We have two towers up now, and we’re hoping to have three or four more up in the next 12 months, covering about 90 percent of our residents,” Parden said.

Senator David Vitter’s office provided a statement to those present at the summit touting the value that Internet connectivity provides to Louisiana citizens. "Areas without access to broadband Internet service will get left behind in our high-speed economy.  I commend the LSU AgCenter and the Connect My Louisiana initiative for focusing on rural parishes to ensure businesses and students in those areas can have the tools they need to succeed in our digital age."

Jackie Jenkins, instructional technology coordinator for the Washington Parish School System, discussed the use of technology in the schools. “Technology is revolutionizing the learning process. We have students who are now publishing books with iPad apps.”

Jenkins said her 15-month-old child already knows the buttons on the iPad and gets upset trying to swipe a traditional magazine when nothing happens.

The Connect My Louisiana initiative is supported by grant funds through the Louisiana Division of Administration. David Moore, the director of the broadband initiative, praised the AgCenter for the work that’s being done.

“We absolutely value our partnership with the AgCenter,” Moore said. “They’ve done a tremendous job of developing the course content, and they’ve had over 80 classes that have reached over 1,500 participants in their service area.”

Moore said the Connect My Louisiana initiative is being successful at easing the transition of rural citizens into the digital age.

Other speakers on the program were Henderson Lewis, superintendent of the East Feliciana School System, who discussed his personal experience with implementing technology in schools where he’s been in leadership positions.

Jay Domingue, representing Radio Communications Services, discussed how his company is filling the connectivity void.

John Wyble, from Louisiana Court Appointed Special Advocate, discussed how his agency is using Web-based tools and resources when working with children and families.

Participants had a choice of breakout sessions, including Introduction to Tablets and Using Social Media for Business and Personal Life, presented by LSU AgCenter training team member David Woerner.

Another session on Mobile Connectivity and Building an Online Presence was presented by LSU AgCenter training team member Bruce Garner.