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LSU AgCenter helps improve Internet access in rural areas

News Release Distributed 10/31/12

BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU AgCenter is working with residents in certain rural areas of Louisiana who are still experiencing difficulty receiving broadband Internet services.

For residents in 18 parishes where broadband Internet is underused or unavailable, AgCenter personnel are providing information to show the value of high-speed Internet access.

The AgCenter’s broadband Internet education and awareness initiative, called Connect My Louisiana, shows the value of being connected to the Internet, said Dwight Landreneau, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor.

The program’s staff in the designated parishes provides classes to introduce residents and business owners to broadband Internet resources and to show them how they can be used to improve their lives.

“The first class in the series is ‘What is Broadband?’ It covers various types of broadband services and explains connection speeds and where to find broadband Internet in their area,” said AgCenter training team member Dave Woerner.

One of the newest products available to those without broadband access is called fixed wireless. Woerner said this could be a significant opportunity for rural Louisiana.

“I know it sounds like an oxymoron,” Woerner says. “But what happens is, if you can get one of the providers to come in, make the investment and put up the tower, then they can blast the signal all over the place.”

Residents and businesses get a small antenna to receive wireless internet. “The speed on that has been very good, and it is very economical,” Woerner said.

In addition to Woerner, who is headquartered in Baton Rouge, Valerie Vincent is serving the Florida Parishes, and Bruce Garner is in the northeastern parishes.

Vincent said she and her colleagues make up a core team for the research, development and teaching of the Connect My Louisiana modules.

Team members also work with LSU AgCenter field staff to assist and coordinate the teaching duties. “The program has been popular among a wide range of citizens,” Vincent said.

The program is not only valuable for individuals, but government and businesses of different sizes are benefiting from the resource.

“School food service employees have been introduced to the MyPlate and the Super Tracker through the iNutrition lesson,” Vincent said. “Helen Williams, food service coordinator for the East Feliciana Parish schools, encouraged her employees to continue to use the website after the sessions to learn more about healthy eating.”

In the Florida parishes adults have also been requesting the Intro to Twitter and the Social Media classes to stay abreast of what their children are up to, Vincent said.

“Our 4-H agents and volunteer leaders have also gotten into the action,” 4-H Agent Angela Myles stated. “Our parish Twitter account has been a great way to get event information out to the youth in a form that they will actually read.”

Garner, who works primarily in Caldwell, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, East and West Carroll, Richland and Tensas parishes, said businesses in his area are taking advantage of the information provided by the LSU AgCenter.

“I have been working with a young business owner who has started an embroidery business,” Garner said. “She started with Facebook and now has started a blog for her business. I am helping her explore e-Commerce options for taking orders online.”

This small business is being run out of her house in a rural part of the parish. If the location did not have broadband connectivity, the business owner would not have had the ability to market her products, he said.

“Without the business owner’s marketing efforts on social media, I really don’t think her business would be seeing the growth that it has seen,” said Garner.

Garner has worked with a group of retirees on using the Internet to access benefit statements online and how to check on insurance claims.

“Most retirees have little to no knowledge of broadband technology and have a fear of it,” he said. “But most insurance and many public assistance programs now encourage, and in some cases, require the use of websites to access information on benefits or to file claims.”

The main activity of the Connect My Louisiana project is to provide consumers, business owners, local government representatives and other public and private organizations with access to educational resources that promote greater broadband Internet adoption, Landreneau said.

“The four-year project shows the benefits of adopting broadband technology in business, education, health care and other aspects of economic activity in Louisiana,” Landreneau said.

The nature of online business is changing rapidly with the increased use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and other social networking sites, Woerner said. “Therefore, establishing an online presence for business is increasingly easy and low-cost.”

Johnny Morgan

Last Updated: 11/1/2012 3:09:51 PM

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