Report: Ville Platte Has Fifth Slowest Internet Speed in the Nation
VILLE PLATTE, La. (AP) — When Abby Rogers moved from Lafayette to Ville Platte four years ago, she knew life would move at a different pace.
As she puts it, the town of 7,400 in Evangeline Parish is a cliche, slow-moving rural town complete with a Main Street where Rogers opened her antiques store, Abby’s Hidden Treasures. But Rogers was quickly advised by residents that the leisurely pace also extended to the town’s internet speed.
Four years later, Rogers doesn’t have a credit card machine at her business, opting instead to process payments using her cell service. It’s quicker that way.
“Right when I moved here, people told me the internet is just slow, so I didn’t even bother getting it,” Rogers said. “But hopefully it’ll change for us.”
Ville Platte was recently found to have the fifth slowest average internet rate in the country, according to an analysis of more than 2 million internet speed tests conducted by HighSpeedInternet.com. The average speed for the town was clocked at 8 Mbps, far below the national average of 50.2 Mbps and the federal minimum benchmark of 25 Mbps, a speed that would allow a family of 4 to stream movies and play video games.
The lethargic flow of information is not news to Ville Platte, a town that would rather be known for its Smoked Meat Festival. But the impact of slow internet speeds goes far beyond difficulties streaming Netflix.
At a public hearing in early 2019 about internet service options, a teacher told the town council the internet speeds affected her ability to create lesson plans.
Stacy Jorden, a Ville Platte native and supervisor with the local district of the state’s Probation and Parole division, said the internet has affected her office’s ability to perform its duties.
Agents have approximately 125 cases a piece, Jorden said, and the office would previously stop accepting new probationers or parolees at 3 p.m. to allow time to finish earlier applications before the end of the day. Her office has since moved that time to 2 p.m.
“Everything is so slow. Probation and parole officers are already swamped with everything and when agents are doing new intakes on probationers, parolees, we rely on the internet. What could take them maybe 30 minutes to complete is taking an hour or longer because the internet is so slow,” Jorden said.
Recently, the department began using an online needs assessment report that helps officers determine a person’s past criminal history and the level of supervision necessary. But often the long loading times results in a report being left incomplete, meaning a probationer or parolee walks out without supervision guidelines in place.
“Our report is crucial to public safety so when that person walks out of our office, our agent knows exactly what they need and how often it’s needed. And sometimes they’re walking out and we don’t have that information yet,” Jorden said.
Louisiana ranks No. 41 in the nation with only 81% of households that have access to internet capable of reaching the benchmark 25 Mbps speed, a standard set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). But rural high speed internet access is an issue not limited to Louisiana.
A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 58% of U.S. adults say high speed internet access is a problem in their community. And since it’s more of a question of infrastructure than plans offered, it’s also a problem that transcends wage gaps. For example, 20% of rural residents in households making less than $30,000 annually said high speed internet access was a problem and 23% of rural adults households earning $75,000 a year had the same concern.
The FCC has attempted to fill these gaps by providing financial incentives to broadband companies willing to connect to towns outside the urban footprint. In this regard, some progress has been made. The FCC reported that 5 million Americans gained standard 25 Mbps internet between 2016 and 2017, and 90% of those gains were in rural areas.
Shountilez Williams, city clerk for Ville Platte, said the internet at City Hall was unbearably slow a few years ago.
“It was just the spinning wheel,” Williams said.
But the city installed fiber cables to improve speed about two years ago. While Williams said her home internet is still less than brisk, the fiber installation has helped the city and web pages only load slowly “every now and then.”
Still, for the rest of Ville Platte and similar towns, improved internet infrastructure can’t happen quickly enough.
“What’s unfortunate is it’s become second nature that it’s so slow, you just plan your day around it,” Jorden said. “We’ve contacted our headquarters, and they said, ‘There’s nothing we can do. It’s your internet.’”
By AP reporter Andrew J. Yawn