Washington Parish took a step into the Internet age Wednesday, thanks to a federal grant.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is putting up $36.1 million dollars in a grant / loan combination as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The program is designed to bring broadband access to rural areas across America.

'It's all about jobs, and it's all about economic opportunity and it starts with getting wired,' U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu said Wednesday morning, after announcing the grant in Franklinton.

'You don't have to move to a big city anymore to build your business,' Senator Landrieu added. 'You can build a business in a rural area and build it pretty big and pretty strong as long as you have good communications and good access, high speed access to the internet.'

The grant and loan will bring hardware to Washington Parish, additional towers and new fiber optic lines.

'This is fantastic for Washington Parish,' Dempsey Parden said. Parden is the Information Technologies Director for Washington Parish. 'Right now, for most of the people in the parish, the only access they have to the internet is either dial up or satellite. Dial up is impossible to use, you can't even do your Facebook on it. Satellite is expensive, and it's not very good.'

'This will be a better product,' Parden added. 'It will be faster. It will be cheaper. It will be more accessible. It's just going to be great for Washington Parish.'

Accoring to the U.S. Census, the population of Washington Parish is 45,669 as of July 1, 2009. That ranks Washington Parish 25th of Louisiana's 64 parishes.

That population, however, is spread out. The low population density made finding a private broadband provider, willing to make the investment in broadband infrastructure difficult.

'We've been working with companies for a long time now to try to bring them in, and it's a big challenge,' Parden said.

The federal grant, according to Parden, now makes it doable.

Washington Parish will begin running fiber lines in and around Franklinton. Parden hopes to wire 30% of Washington Parish, which he called 'a good beginning'.

Wednesday's grant also covers Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes.

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