Ask Me Anything! with Veneeth Iyengar, Executive Director of ConnectLA

Ask Me Anything! with Veneeth Iyengar, Executive Director of ConnectLA Banner Image

Apr 28, 2023


About Our Distinguished Guest

Veneeth Iyengar has the honor of being the first executive director of ConnectLA -- a role that came with the daunting task of eliminating Louisiana's digital divide by 2029. 

Before joining ConnectLA, Veneeth served as assistant chief administrative officer under the City of Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, running point on issues concerning economic development, innovation, small business, entrepreneurship, job generation, and public private partnership development.

Veneeth holds a bachelor of science in economics from Purdue University and a masters of science in finance from Johns Hopkins University. 

Event Transcript

Drew Clark: Good afternoon. Welcome to Ask Me Anything with Veneeth Iyengar. Veneeth is the head of the Louisiana Broadband office. ConnectLA and he's gotta have a gumbo junk joke, gumbo joke in there somewhere Veneeth. Welcome. 

Veneeth Iyengar: Look, happy to be here Drew and thanks for your advocacy and passion for all things broadband.

Drew: Well, uh, wanna make sure we have, uh, uh, our, our screen set up and, uh, that we can, uh, see one another and, and, uh, hear one another. Obviously we've got a lot of people in the community. A lot of people will join. A lot of people will join later. But, as I told you just beforehand, Veneeth we've, we've had, uh, had or will have at least 10 broadband state [00:01:00] broadband directors.

We've had, um, those from Arkansas, Mississippi, Virginia, Kansas, Indiana. And coming up next, next month, we've got Jim Stinger of South Carolina. Jessica Simmons of, uh, Georgia, Eric Frederick of Michigan, and Valerie Bullock of, uh, New Jersey. So you're in good company. Of course. As I, as I also said, you know, you're kind of like first in the nation on a lot of these things, right?

And so, I'm sorry we're only getting to you, uh, fifth or sixth here Veneeth, but, but tell us a little bit about how you think about running a state broadband office and why it's important to you to be like, first, tell us about some of your firsts Veneeth. 

Veneeth: Well, look, I, you know, at the end of the day, the cultural ethos that drives our office is always to work with a sense of urgency and to effectively be in a position where we one day work ourselves out of a job.

I mean, I think the way you do that is through sheer execution, through sheer process improvement. [00:02:00] You know, we have, we have visited 88 towns, cities, and villages in Louisiana. Wow. And so we're real time in taking feedback that we hear and then bubbling that up to legislators, the ISPs to the general community to create policy and action, to keep things moving forward.

So, you know, we're, we've got this natural shot clock of you've gotta commit and spend this money, you know, but folks in rural areas have had a long time, um, in thinking about wanting to get the internet as quickly and efficiently as possible. And so from our perspective, you know, we're, we're fortunate to be recognized, um, um, you know, sort of as a thought leader.

We've, we've leaned on other states, some of whom we've mentioned quite a bit in helping us, um, get to where we are and we'll just continue to move forward. 

Drew: Yeah. Yeah. Well, um, uh, you know, obviously broadband and state broadband offices have, have been around. I had a small role in 0.0 version of this, uh, right.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment [00:03:00] Act. And, and, and every state had a state broadband office. And then when that program, the BTOP program came to an end, most, probably about half, half of the office, half the states kept their offices and half kind of drifted away. But there was, but there, like, it was, it was more like 20 18, 20 19.

There was a real record of the essence of state offices. Right. And then of course the pandemic hit and then it was like, oh my gosh, why do we not have a state broadband office? Right. And talk a little bit about your experience. Right. Tell, tell us about it. So it was really interesting. 

Veneeth: Look, our, our broadband story really started in late 2019.

So the governor, you know, through an executive order, recognized that we needed to eliminate the digital divide and to do it by 29. Right. So he created through an executive order, this broadband for everyone in Louisiana, commission made up of stakeholders before that commission could ever get off the ground.

Pandemic starts in March, and yet two legislators that came from rural areas. Decide that, look, we need to have a purposeful office that's designed to coordinate all this federal, state, and local [00:04:00] efforts. And so they worked with the governor, created our office, and then were off and running. But you know, you know, to your point, broadband is an issue, especially among rural areas, pre-pandemic has always been a one, number one, number two, number three issue.

If you talked to the rural folks, especially in Louisiana and said, tell me what your biggest problems were pre pandemic. It was, I cannot functionally improve my lives. I cannot functionally and professionally improve my capacity to be better because I don't have the internet. It's only when we feel, when we feel that folks that lived in urban communities started to suffer and have the same challenges.

That you suddenly started to have a very shared view and vision on the broadband challenges. Mm-hmm. Interesting. And I, and I think from our perspective, that's been really helpful because 64 parishes in Louisiana, Even in parishes where we are, which is East Baton Rouge Parish, which is where Baton Rouge is, you know, your broadband challenge is gonna be less [00:05:00] access and it's gonna be more affordability and digital skills.

So now suddenly you have this shared empathy from folks around the state, urban and rural, that say, Hey, now I get the challenge that you've always wanted, that you've been always asking, and how do we work together to move forward? And that's why we've had legislation that's, that hasn't had a single no vote as of, of now trying to get this thing 

Drew: done.

So, so, um, on a political level, uh, I mean, and you kind of implied this, but just be clear, this is not a Republican or a Democratic issue, correct? I mean, it's a, it's a 

Veneeth: unicorn issue. It's a unicorn issue because you summarily talk to people around the state. You know, you go to areas that voted 80, 90% Trump, uh, Republican, you voted, you go to places where he voted 80, 90% Biden Democrat.

And you, you, in none of the conversations, okay. And I'm not to sound pollyannaish cuz I'm from Louisiana, but we have never [00:06:00] had a conversation with someone that has said, well, I don't want that money. Or it's, it's like, okay, Veneeth this is my challenge. How do we work together and solve it? Right.

Right. And that's been consistent from day zero up until now. And I don't think that behavior's gonna change. 

Drew: Well, I I, I, I can't, I can't let Veneeth, I, I wanna make sure we get the first in. Okay. You were the first to receive approval from the Treasury Department's plan to spend 176 million on, uh, arpa uh, dollars.

Uh, and of course this went to fund the gumbo, uh, program granting unserved municipalities, broadband opportunities. You were the first to receive the planning grant under the bipartisan infrastructure law. The infrastructure investment. I, I j as we all know and love it. You are, according to the Wall Street Journal, the first in the country per capita in adoption of the Federal Communications Commission's affordability, uh, affordable connectivity program, [00:07:00] and, well, it's not first year sixth in the National Digital Inclusion Alliances Digital Equity Index.

Uh, any thoughts on these, uh, the, the, these, these markers, so to speak? 

Veneeth: Yeah, look, I, I mean, obviously it's a team effort, right? I think what you've, what we've learned in Louisiana, I, and as evidenced by, you know, we've hosted the Vice President, vice President Harris, we've hosted the FCC chairwoman in the last Friday.

We had, uh, spent significant time with Angela Ty Bennett, who runs effectively the Digital Equity Act and the digital equity program for N T I A, I think, and we've hosted folks from N T I A, we had Alan Davidson. We hosted the N G A last summer in New Orleans, and. We had a very successful N g A visit in Nevada this past week.

I think that, whenever people come to Louisiana, I think that what they see is the level of engagement that we've had with people, the connectivity with people that we've been able to develop, um, [00:08:00] to create relationships that are unique across all sectors. And because this is such an alignment issue, both from a, the governor's perspective, the legislature, and all the different sectors that are summarily impacted by the lack of broadband, you know, it creates, it makes our job easier, right?

So whenever we needed something, we could quickly go through a variety of sectors or talk to a variety of people, whether ISPs or otherwise, and say, Hey, this is our challenge. Can we quickly work on a solution? And so, you know, obviously I'm gonna be selfish and say, I've got the best team you've interviewed.

Uh, broadband team you interviewed, um, one of our former colleagues, Mr. Glenn Howie, who's now in Arkansas. Right. You know, and, uh, you know, we have our, my colleagues Thomas, who you know, and David, who, you know, regularly are fielding opportunities to advance in their careers. Right. And so I think that's a, you know, testament to the l to the engine that we've built here in Louisiana.

Drew: So, so, um, I want, I want to come [00:09:00] back to this goal, this ambitious goal of 2019. Okay. Note the year before the pandemic Yeah. To eliminate the digital divide. And could you just drill into that a little bit? Yeah. What, how will you know that you are successful? Yeah. What will be the marks of that? So, 

Veneeth: Look, the, the, the size of the problem is 1.7 million people in Louisiana don't have access to the internet.

42% of whom are black and Latino households, either because it's an access, affordability, literacy, or. The skills, affordability and literacy or device issue, right? Or access issue, affordability. So, um, you know, on the access, it's a pretty linear argument that you can make, right? In terms of addressing that piece.

As of the most recent FCC maps, the address level maps, which are, look, it's, it's a imperfect good start and it's gonna only get better over time, right? Um, but based on those maps, you know, nearly 50, 55% of[00:10:00] 

Drew: Veneeth, um, I lost you for a second. Uh, say again,

Are you still there? Uh, connectivity issues? Um,

do, uh, can you still hear me? You were, you were, you were going, going great there. Uh, let, let's, let's hope you're still here.

Okay. Are you there again? Can you hear me? We're good. I can hear you now, but I lost you for a second. So, so, so say again what you said after the FC 

Veneeth: in and to some of the folks on the, it is ironic, right? Okay. Um, so, you know,[00:11:00] 

balance, we would take care of through the beat. So,

Drew: Still a little bit of, uh, buffering there, I guess. Uh, the, the, the, the commentary is okay. I can hear you again. I can hear you again, Veneeth. Go for it. 

Veneeth: Um, can you hear you? Okay. So in a nutshell, look, you in terms of measuring results and productivity, right? You know, we feel really good with the federal resources we have to address the sizing of that problem, whether it's access or, or skills.

So on the access, we're 60% of the way there. And on everything else, you know, it's gonna take a good five to six years [00:12:00] to address issues around devices and skills, right? 

Drew: Okay. Um, we've got a number, a number of great questions from. Yep. Uh, our, our, our, our audience. It is of course an ask many things, so I'm gonna go through those.

I'll try to get as many as I can. Hopefully all of them. I of course got other questions too, so fill in and complement and supplement here. Let's, let's, uh, start with this question from, um, Austin, uh, Lahoya. I hope I got that right there. Thanks for being here. Gumbo recipients continue planning, uh, their buildout and executing on those grant dollars.

Supply chain and labor pressures are causing buildout budgets to increase materially. What is your take on this kind of, you know, ballooning cost much, much, much higher than inflation, core inflation or, or real inflation. It's like three or four or five times that, right. What is your take on how to think about, um, affordability moving forward, uh, in light of these, these challenges?

[00:13:00] Well, let's. 

Veneeth: So you mentioned two things, right? Workforce and supply chain. So let's focus on the workforce piece. So this is what we're doing in the workforce. We, uh, strongly encouraged all of our gumbo participants and awardees to partner with the community colleges to develop workforce plans.

And they all did. The governor then put in 10.3 million to help provide tuition assistance for those that want to pursue a career in broadband in the broadband industry. And by the end of September, October of this year, every community college in Louisiana will offer multiple classes around fiber splicing and trenching to help address issues around the workforce.

Now that still requires a bit of a long game because you, you're organically having to build up a workforce and I think we need close to 5,000 people to construct, maintain, and operate these networks. And so that's, that's something that's really important to us as an office and it's reflected in the nature of.

Of [00:14:00] the bead nofo in terms of how we address the workforce. Look at the supply chain. It's gonna be a challenge. And, you know, as a strategy, you know, we'll try to be aggressive in trying to pursue some of the manufacturers to set up and locate in Louisiana that it's gonna take some time. You know, in the meantime, you know, the feds have, the feds have asked, you know, all the states and there's potential to look at, um, issues around supply chain and, and baba and to maybe potentially ask for waivers though on a very specific basis.

Mm-hmm. Um, but we have to do things here in Louisiana to streamline costs. So we're looking at, you know, how do we streamline and expedite permitting as a, as an issue, right? Anything that's tangential, but not necessarily directly related to supply chain costs directly is something that, you know, we're looking at now around workforce, um, around, um, permitting that can help at the cost of some of these network builds.

Okay. We're not, the thing is this, we're, we're not the only state [00:15:00] that's having this challenge. And so I know industry is stepping up, but the scary part is even in a place like Louisiana in every state, it's not just, you know, yes we need 5,000 people to build and construct these networks, but every infrastructure project is gonna largely pull from the same labor.

So, you know, we're gonna have to do a student body left and be as aggressive as we can to build up something, sort of build a plane and, and fly it as well. 

Drew: Well, the other piece of that question, and it's being asked by others in the community as well, um, how, how will ConnectLA uh, work with local service providers to ensure affordability?

Yes. Affordable service for vulnerable populations of these deployed networks while, you know, making sure they're good quality, uh, networks. How, how do we like, so if, if we have to kind of drill into both infrastructure and affordability Yeah. How do both those things at the same time? So, 

Veneeth: The companies that have agreed, the companies that signed grant agreements to us, committed to pricing [00:16:00] mechanisms for the duration of, of the, the construction.

Right. Which may take several years. 

Drew: Right. What, what kind of, what kind of pricing commitments are, are being made 

Veneeth: here? I mean, it could be anywhere between, you know, 30, 50, $70 for ultra gig speed service, because I have been very public about one thing. There's really a couple, I've been very public about a couple things, but frankly, it is a busted investment that we make if we address the access issue and then we stop.

Because if we address the, if we don't address the affordability issue, then you're inherently doing a disservice to the people on, and it's really a, frankly, a wasted investment on the. On the infrastructure side, especially when ISPs sometimes are challenged by adoption and take rates. So inherently there is an issue around take rates if, if you're overcharging for largely bad service, right?

And [00:17:00] so, so what we're trying to do here is, is, to have the companies commit, um, to a pricing scheme that we think is affordable. We scored that in our, in our, in our projects, in our gumbo application. And now if you look at the bead, 75% of their scoring criteria has to be met by affordability, fair labor, and um, for, uh, Lois CapEx.

So we're trying to incorporate what that effectively means from a, from a scoring criteria and a scoring strength. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So, that's really important from an affordability point of view, right? Because it ties into adoption and everything else. And Drew, there was one other, there was a, there was another question.

There were two for. 

Drew: Uh, that I asked 

Veneeth: already. Okay. The other, oh, on, on the affordability piece also. Yeah. Watch. We also have clawback mechanisms. Oh, really? Yeah. So as a state, the state law says we have the right to claw back an asset if they fail to comply with the [00:18:00] grant agreement. We have current legislation that's ongoing today, um, that's gonna be heard, I think in the next week or so to maybe extend the shelf life of this clawback so that we ensure that the prices, um, don't go a astronomically out of whack, but they reflect.

Increases based on C P I and anything else. Cause that is a fear, right? You, you, you, you, the price is set at 50 bucks by the provider, and then the next year it goes to 300. Yeah. 

Drew: Let's be clear what we're talking about here. So these provisions you're talking about the guarantees that you got from providers to whom Louisiana has granted funds, uh, and clawbacks and so forth.

Are these, are these only on the, uh, Louisiana granted funds through the, um, the arpa, you know, or, or Yes. Or will these also apply to what you're about to do with bead funding when you get your bead funding? It's both. Okay. It's both. And, are other states doing this too? 

Veneeth: I don't know. That's a good question.

It is a good question, right? It's, [00:19:00] I, I, the thing that, and we're, look, I don't know what other states are doing from that perspective, but it's really, when you think about affordability, I think it's pretty well defined. I. What you could do from a low-cost affordability perspective. It's a little bit fuzzy when it comes to middle class affordability.

Mm-hmm. And so what we would like is feedback from your members and from the ISPs and from the general community, uh, writ large on helping us and perhaps other states define what middle class affordability means. Yeah. And what those price points, because I think it's pretty well defined, low cost making a requirement for acp naturally companies are, are, reducing their prices vis-a-vis the speeds to effectively make that for free.

But we're still trying to figure out, uh, what middle class affordability means. Uh, we've somewhat addressed it through our scoring criteria, um, in such that, you know, your price point if you live in a rural community has to match the lowest price that you would offer in an urban market if you have over a thousand [00:20:00] customers.

Right. And so we sort of touched on that, but. It's something we'd love to get continued feedback on. 

Drew: And just one additional point of clarification. So when you talk about these assets and the, the government, whether it's the state government or the federal government, and of course B is really, you know, the state is the awardee, so it's in the funds.

So it's really the state when you come down to it. So when we talk about that, are the assets of these resources that are being given to providers, are they private resources or are they state resources? There's still some stake component to it that allows you to do these kinds 

Veneeth: of things. Yeah, look, the, the, the commitment that we sign, and it's in the state law, is that during the construction pays, right, during the time in which a company has committed through a legal binding document with the state, um, you know, they'll typically, what, what's, what happened?

Like last November when we signed 77 grant agreements, our company said they're gonna bill these specific households, to these specific businesses within this specific period of time, [00:21:00] and they're six months, 24 months, or what have you. And so, Any violation of that. And they also committed to pricing.

Any violation of that, you know, allows us as a state to claw back the asset or to claw back that money. Mm-hmm. And to find someone else to finish a job. 

Drew: Interesting. Okay. All right. Well, I'm sure this is so please. 

Veneeth: So the thing is this, every, every we request on a monthly basis, we have monthly reporting requirements mm-hmm.

Um, from these companies. And they're gonna start to provide, I mean, they've provided, um, or they, they will start to provide, you know, on a monthly basis to the status of projects. And we'll have that for public review over the next couple of weeks. And so you'll start to, people will start to see how these projects are going.

It's like the Domino's Tracker, right? Yeah. Um, pizza's baking, it's being cooked and being delivered. It's gonna be the same thing where people can start to see what money has been, um, expensed, how many BSLs have been built. And, and so [00:22:00] on and so 

Drew: fourth. Great. We need the gumbo tracker, right? Uh, yeah, 

Veneeth: I'll be the gumbo tracker.

There's a lot of fiber in gumbo. There's a lot of fiber in our program. 

Drew: Um, we have another question. We have a lot of questions here. Let's keep moving through here. Yeah. So, uh, I'd love to hear some voices here talking about lowering latency and buffer bloat. By the way, this is not from David Tate.

This is from another questioner, Daniel Dennison. Uh, and, and he's asking about the, the lower latency and buffer bloat once adequate to say, 100 by 25 services are delivered instead of pushing throughput up as the only, or even an effective way of making communications better. I, I think the, the, the core of the question is what do you think about lower latency and the importance of getting that Veneeth?

Look latency. 


Veneeth: I think everything's based, look, the challenges that we have is based on the underlying technology that's driving the transmission speeds and data to the household, right? And so I think what we've historically have seen are things like, Dsl, [00:23:00] um, you know, perhaps fixed wireless below 100 by 20 and other types of technology pre pandemic that may, may, may have been adequate enough suddenly are not, is not adequate enough.

Now, behaviorally speaking, most have done all of the money that we've committed to this first, uh, tranche of gumbo dollars through ARPA has been to behaviorally, um, commit dollars to companies that are building fiber. Right? And so it's, even the cable companies are upgrading to fiber or, or duos, whatever, 4.0 if not beyond.

And what we do is we'll send technical people out into the field to actually do the tactical audits before we remit a single dollar. Mm-hmm. And so that's, that's an important exercise for us to really test to see if what is being committed is actually meeting technologically that speed and reliability test, not at 3:00 AM.

But at peak times and peak usage. 

Drew: Right. Here's a great question from Steve Wallace, [00:24:00] um, and he's, uh, thanking you for the work of, uh, ConnectLA and, um, wasta Wasta. Thank you. Thank you. You read my mind there. Yeah. Uh, from the Broadband advisory committee, what is our best approach to get the prospective vendors submitting comprehensive get it done grant requests rather than small piecemeal efforts that stretch out the timeline?

Great question. What do you think of Vene? So, you know, the, the, the 

Veneeth: great question, and, and Steve, you, you and I have had this conversation before, right? I, I think what, so what's gonna happen over the next couple of months, at least in Louisiana, is we'll, we will likely go through the challenge process that's required and mandated by N T I A.

And so our process going forward for BEAT is to run a challenge process and then look at defining project areas based on that challenge process, and then run the grant program based on that, that approach and process. And so, you know, We're gonna have to really fine tune and look at these maps. Um, I think in May, the month of May, whether May one or May 30th, we'll [00:25:00] have the next solid, uh, version of, of the FCC maps come out.

We're gonna have to look at it and then really understand, let's say in your parish and Washington parish, which is for those geographically, um, are not aware of it, which mostly most people will. Not Washington parishes northeast Louisiana. It's near the Arkansas, uh, Mississippi border. Uh, and so it's about three hours north of Baton Rouge.

And so, um, you know, we'll have to look at the maps and as long as we, we've satisfied with the 80 20 rule, right? 80% of those locations are unserved. Then we'll accordingly define project areas. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. But what's gonna be interesting is, right, is in Louisiana you got a bunch of aol, you have 175,600 Ardo locations.

That's a 

Drew: A lot. Let's talk a bit about that. That's a useful detour. Right. And Ardo, of course, stands for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Yeah. Uh, this was, this was kind of in between, in between the, uh, state broadband r role that I refer to 1.0 and, and now, right. There was a [00:26:00] period of time when it was the FCC that was dispensing funds through Connect America Fund and Right.

Ardo. There's been a lot of criticism about RDOF, uh, which was a reverse auction approach when internet service providers bid as low as they could to build out particular unserved areas. Right. So what is the state of ARD Ddo deployments in Louisiana? Yeah, so 

Veneeth: where we are with Ardo is 175,692 locations, have a federal commitment, I think 13 providers.

Uh, so the first couple of things. Nearly 80% of those locations are to be, uh, it is gonna be a federal obligation through, um, a fiber uh, program, right? So fiber is gonna be built to 80% of those locations. The balance is gonna be really starlink right now. Starlink, you know, the state legislature has allowed us to use our bead dollars, and I think the bead nofo allows for us to use our dollars to go into areas that already have received a [00:27:00] federal obligation in this case through, um, through, if it's a satellite's, the only exclusive provider, so that in, in effect, that unlocks 20,000 locations more that could be funded through the balance of our CPF dollars or the balance well for, from the infrastructure bill.

So second is, with the exception of starlink, I believe every single Ardo provider in Louisiana. So you have connected on, you've got Cable South, you've got Charter, you've got, uh, CenturyLink. And then, um, you've got a, a number of others have already started receiving their monthly checks. Mm-hmm. They started receiving their monthly checks, I believe in Q1 of 2022.

So in theory, they should be building. Right, right. And, and so I know Charter, for instance, is aggressively building their 25,000 art off locations and sort of the southeast part of the state. Um, and so, you know, it's, I'll tell you, drawn in, whenever we go to a community, [00:28:00] 90% of the conversations, conversations around Art Old, okay.

Not about the programs we manage through Gumbo or the infrastructure, because there's line of sight. They say, okay, Veneeth, I can talk to you. I know the status. And so the Public Service Commission has started in Louisiana, has started requesting quarterly updates on Ardo participants because to be brutally honest, okay.

If RDO works, that's great. If RDO fails, that's not so good. But the sooner companies tell us, Hey, those co those locations are gonna be too expensive and we're going to, we're gonna be in default, then that's fine. The sooner they tell us, then we could put it into the bead bucket. Yeah. And then satisfy that requirement there.

Drew: Well, sounds like it's something really worth, uh, digging, digging into a lot more. Thank you for putting that issue back, back before us. Yeah. Uh, there's, there's a couple people, uh, highlighting, um, the, and, and Scott, Scott Woods has actually highlighted, we saw the update for East Carroll Parish. Yes.

Good news. [00:29:00] Gumbo. Can you provide any additional information and contacts regarding your office's role in partnering with East Carroll Parish and supporting the community and the service 

Veneeth: providers? Look, the governor has been very consistent that there's no greater place that needs high speed internet as in, as in Northeast Louisiana and East Carroll is northeast Louisiana.

It borders the Mississippi Borders, one of the poorest parishes in the country. And so for folks there, there are certain folks in, sometimes in the telecom world that feel that, uh, we don't share a similar passion in interest in helping smaller communities and rural communities and poorer communities as perhaps telecom providers think they do.

Right. And so we have been very consistent. In fact, I think it was on my, even before I started this job, March of 31, of 20 21, 2 weeks before that, okay, when I was still working at heading Economic Development for the Mayor Baton Rouge, I had a conversation [00:30:00] with the folks from Delta Interfaith and, and they've been consistently addressing, and they've got a singular viewpoint and a vision for addressing the digital divide in East Carroll.

And so we, and the governor especially, have prioritized. Focus on East Carroll. And when I started on March 31st, 2021, he said, we need to absolutely focus on communities like East Carroll. So we've been very consistent. When we launched the Gumbo program in November of 21, the first, the second place we launched it, um, first officially um, place, but the second in general was, um, in East Carroll in Lake Providence.

So we launched a program there. Mm-hmm. In July of last year, the governor there went and made an announcement. And look, we, you know, we, we went through a challenge process, which was required by state law. And so we were happy to proactively work with all parties to resolve that situation as quickly as possible.

It could have been a lot quicker, but, you know, we've learned from that. We believe in process [00:31:00] improvement. Yeah. And we're gonna change the challenge process going forward. So look, the good thing is, I actually had got a call unbeknownst to the fact that, you know, we were having this ask me anything today, but I had a call with De with, uh, the Delta Interfaith people thanking us for our efforts and.

In making this as successful as possible. And I said, look, success is not gonna be defined by conversation. From our perspective, success is gonna be defined by execution. And so my question to Delta Interfaith today was, when is the connection gonna build their first, um, location? Right? When is that location gonna be built?

And I, and he said, within nine months, the entirety of the project will be done. Three months, the first customer will be connected. I said, let me know when that happens. Cause I want to, for me to seize to believe. I'll go up, see, and then happily ever 

Drew: After, I'm gonna put on my calendar Veneeth okay? And I'll, I'll call you three months from today.

All right? You saw 

Veneeth: me because that's when I asked Delta Interfaith. I said, all right, three months, it's gonna be really hot at the time, but it'll be well worth making the trip up to, uh, to, [00:32:00] and really celebrating with the people when. When that 

Drew: happens. Now, a little over a year ago, you gave an interview and, and, and I want to just read a little bit from this because it leads into something I'd really like us to drill into.

Uh, you, you, you said that the role of a broadband director is, um, it's really more than just infrastructure. It's a therapist's office. It is hearing from frustrated state residents. It's being a problem solver. It's about tech, education, customer support, grant maker, urban planner, business and community matchmaker, geographer, and economic development expert.

Okay. So, let's just talk a little bit about those. What is, what is the job, what is the job that you and all these other state broadband officers are doing? What is the core thing to be done and how do you kind of get and access those skills that you need to do that job? 

Veneeth: Um, look, I, I, I, it, this is the, [00:33:00] what's interesting is, I think you and I mentioned this before, drew, the folks in Silicon Valley who've always perhaps, or maybe perhaps, or who've always somewhat chatted, government's ability to execute, need to take lessons from broadband directors around the country.

Why? Because our offices have no more than three to four people. So in Louisiana, just like many other states, we have three people that's gonna manage the success of nearly 2 billion in federal funds, including the private match to affect change to 1.7 million people. I will be hard pressed to find anyone in Silicon Valley who can do the same thing to affect this many people on finite budgets.

Okay. Our budget from our office when I started three years ago, or two years ago, I told the commissioner, Jay Darn, who's been incredibly beneficial and helpful to our office of the Division Administration [00:34:00] when he said, what do you need? I said, Jay, I need three people and a million and a half dollars in seed capital to get this thing going.

Let us prove value. Let us prove our worth, and if you feel that we're doing it, then let's move to that next stage. And so what we inherently do is we're operating like public startups. We're also spending a significant amount of time on the road through stakeholder engagement, getting customer feedback.

What do public startups do? They're not making a product. Well, the startups that fail are making a product based on not engaging with customers, but rather what they think customers need. In our case, what are we doing? We're not developing products or services or engagements or programs based on what we think people need, but rather what people need.

And then reverse engineer and, and prescribe policy in action. And so in the course of that, We obtain as much [00:35:00] information and we get real-time engagement, not only from just people, but people representing different sectors. So I'm a little bit dangerous now in terms of the challenges that farmers have.

I'm a little bit more dangerous in terms of understanding now what the challenges are that librarians have a little bit more dangerous in terms of what first responders have in terms of their broadband challenge and, and, and summarily. Um, we, we try to, as much as we can, then develop policy to affect all those communities.

Drew: Mm-hmm. The, the way I used to think about this when, when I had kind of the, the role in Illinois of, of state broadband leader is there's the data and mapping. Yeah. Right? And, and, and involving coordination and, and, and interaction with other projects and providers. There's the, uh, infrastructure piece, which, which you, you have a much, you and, and your, your colleagues have a, a much more direct role.

Ours was purely indirect just by virtue of state responsibility with, with, [00:36:00] uh, the governor who was a leader in broadband and, and the teaching. Right. And the, the, the, the, the education capacity. Cuz there really is that, that component to it. So, so of those, of those buckets, let's just talk a minute about Yeah.

Data and mapping. Okay. And, and obviously the, the, the, the FCC maps have been, you know, roundly discussed on this and many other programs, but, but like, what is your hope? On the mapping front that from the FCC and from what you all in, in that connect to LA are 

Veneeth: doing. So look, I, you know, when the FCC chairwoman was having conversations with everyone, all the state broadband directors, late q3, early part of q4, um, you know, one of the things she said was, look, pay attention to the fabric challenges.

And I think, uh, 19 or 19 or so states submitted fabric challenges between, um, October one and November 15th, we actually submitted 41,000 fabric challenges. Over 16% were net new accepted, uh, a good chunk, uh, I think [00:37:00] 60% or 80% were confirmed and the balance were thrown out. I think we learned from that and then we issued an additional 36,000 challenges.

Between November 15th and March 15th the fabric challenges, and we'll see what whatever comes out, um, you know, in the month of May. And so we've been proactive in submitting these fabric challenges on behalf of the 64 parishes. And look, again, the feds are doing this at this scale for the first time ever, for anyone who thinks that a perfect product would've come out, you know, is, is a little bit unfair given that, you know, as state broadband offices, we're summarily going through the same issue, right?

And so I think for every cut of it, the more intelligence that we have in terms of how decisions are being made in terms of the adjudication of these service locations, then better. The second is this. We have to go through this mandatory challenge process. Of these FCC maps [00:38:00] from a service availability perspective, and that's required by N T I A and that's required by B.

And so, you know, over the next couple of months when we, um, re and we received this past week, the model challenge process, every state received the model challenge process. 

Drew: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Susan Model challenge process. So, so that's from N T I A? Yes. And, and can you change it? Can you customize it? What if I was No, it's a model.

Ask you what is your challenge process going 

Veneeth: to be? Vene. Yeah. It's a great que look. It's a model, which means, you know, we could, we could change, but then we're gonna have to get approved for the changes we make to N T I A and, and get, um, the n t blessing on that. But it's a 36 page document, which we received Wednesday.

So we're going through, we're going through every page and every word to understand, you know, mechanically speaking, what is being proposed and, and the, and the process flow for the challenge process. So that, If we think specific to Louisiana we need to make changes, then we'll, we'll quickly, you know, flag nt I and say, Hey, this is what we think [00:39:00] should be the MAL model challenge.

Mm-hmm. So we're actively going through that. Now, 

Drew: let's, let's make sure we talk about other providers or, or providers themselves and their role. And we got a question from Daniel Denson. Let's ask this and ask about how you interact with professors. Daniel asks, have you found, as I hope that some large providers simply do not build out until government money becomes available.

I use Spectrum Time Warner Cox, and the like. Okay. So what's your reaction to that statement slash question? 

Veneeth: Look, I, I, I don't work for those companies, so I don't, so it's hard for me to behaviorally, um, um, comment on specific individual company actions. Right now, all I can go for is I, if, if we're, if we're trying to solve a non-service problem and.

One of these companies says we have the best solution and we run the trap. So we actually have an internal audit team that looks at the financials to look at the strength, to look at track record and [00:40:00] history, et cetera. Then, you know, based on a competitive scoring process, we'll commit to those dollars.

We'll commit those dollars to those projects. Now the commitment means we're not giving 'em all the money upfront. The moment they deliver on 10% of the broadband serviceable locations, and the fact that within a 15 or 10 day period, 10 business days that service location could be active is our litmus test to remit payment.

So we send technical auditors and we say yes, and yes, within 10 days that household can get high speed internet and then they get 10% of the money, and then 35, 65, 85, a hundred percent, right? So look, at the end of the day, I have to deal with 55 other states and territories in actuality. I have to learn from the past and behaviorally create policies to reflect real time and then future, um, programs.

Right. And so at this point, everyone's on the same level playing field. [00:41:00] Everyone's on the clean slate. We give money based on a company's ability to execute. And then we'll track that some, you know, on a monthly basis. And if companies don't execute, then there are pretty significant penalties that will exert on those companies.

What I 

Drew: mean is, is your gut that that, uh, most or majority of funding will go to large income? Yeah. The co-op, the small providers, yeah. What do you think it's gonna end up going, being distributed? 

Veneeth: Actually a majority of our dollars, uh, of the money that we've committed thus far, I believe, uh, I'm pretty sure, uh, but I gotta check whether it's 50, 55, 60% did not go to the charters, Comcast, at t's of world.

Wow. It went to companies like American Office Products that's building in Lake Charles. It's going to a company called Cajun Broadband. That's a building in southwest Louisiana. It's going to companies like Cable South, uh, which is based outta Louisiana, that's building throughout the state. It's going to companies like Sky Rider, which is a hometown company out of Monroe that's building out in Caldwell Powers.

So a majority of our dollars, [00:42:00] uh, did not go to the larger, 

Drew: the largest. A great data point and one well worth following up for other states. Austin la la Hoy builds on that. Uh, asking another question. Uh, what role do small operators play in bridging the digital divide and ask specifically, should state broadband offices be making space for small operators in their programs?

Or should we only care about getting the infrastructure built and getting people online? It is important 

Veneeth: for us in Louisiana that we encourage all providers to participate in this program and all providers have an equal shot of getting this money. And if you look at behaviorally, um, the dollars that have been.

Received in this first good chunk of our C P F dollars, it went to smaller companies that are closer to the heart of the communities. Mm-hmm. And so is it, did we purposely create a categorization of, Hey, you're a small [00:43:00] company, we'll give you bonus points? No, we felt really confident and we ran the traps to ensure that these companies like Cajun Broadband, who by the way, has already constructed and built a network six months, uh, faster than the commitment they made to us through the grant agreement.

And it's all underground infrastructure, by the way. Um, in this one particular parish, you know, their com, those companies have a sometimes quicker and, and faster way to execute because they're not dealing with perhaps the, the larger challenges in dealing with larger organizations, frankly. And so, being a smaller company, just like being a, you know, why could broadband offices around the country move so fast because we're not dealing with.

Millions of other issues that we have to deal with at the same time. Right, right. 

Drew: So that nimbleness is always good. Maybe compare the speed of the ConnectLA broadband office to the fccs, uh, mapping division. Right. Uh, happy to always help them as well. Uh, we have a question from Nikki, uh, Ahmadi, I hope, again, I've got that right.

Looking to the future, what role do you [00:44:00] see bead playing in shaping the digital economy and promoting economic growth in Louisiana? And how do you kind of wanna make sure that you, you, get as, as many, as much funds as possible through bead? 

Veneeth: So, great question. Okay. You know, I'm oversimplifying it, but the two biggest ways that you can grow an economy is by increasing the workforce of your, of your economy and or increasing worker productivity on a per employee and per output basis.

And if you think about all of this broadband dollars, there's probably no greater infrastructure play in our lifetime. Um, that's gonna directly affect both challenges. If you think about all the jobs that are gonna be created in the construction maintenance of these networks, if you then think about the impact that from a worker productivity, um, that the, in, uh, by having broadband, you're now improving healthcare outcomes, which is gonna improve worker productivity.

You, for a farmer, you're gonna help [00:45:00] reduce operating expenses. You, you're gonna start to see that multipliers occur very quickly. I think on average, you know, in a place like Louisiana, every small business that gets, uh, access to high speed internet, it's gonna probably increase sales, increase revenue by, on average 45 to $55,000, um, you know, per year.

And that means potentially adding one more employee. And so I, I just think we are being really intentional and focused on solving the functional lead of getting everyone access to the internet. But then how do we leverage broadband? As a platform or as an asset or as an enabler to drive Louisiana's economy.

And so we're talking to folks in the healthcare sector, we're talking to folks in the entrepreneurial sector. We're talking to folks in, at the academics, in the academic centers. We're talking to the folks where broadband can be converged with telehealth, mental telehealth, right? And, and efficacy to help drive, uh, and improve mental health, um, awareness.

So, [00:46:00] you know, we're gonna have a, our, our, the digital equity plan that every state has committed to. We're gonna actually have our digital equity plan available for public comment, um, I believe May 8th. So 

Drew: Oh my gosh. And, and, and nine and in nine days. 10 days, uh, correct. 

Veneeth: So, and that's gonna be an awesome opportunity for folks to look at the covered populations that we've talked to and prescribe ways to say, Hey, if this covered population has an issue around healthcare, what are those business models?

What are those innovative, uh, disruptive, um, opportunities that we could, uh, Help obviate the primary care need through innovation, technology, broadband, et cetera, that we could partner with, maybe through our infrastructure bill or through the digital equity funds. 

Drew: Well, this goes to the point we, we started with about kind of moving fast and, and, and going forward.

Jace Wilson asks, you've mentioned in the past your goal to be the first state to roll out beads. How will you make it happen? What steps have you taken to prepare Louisiana for this? 

Veneeth: So really we have three deliverables. Every state's gonna have [00:47:00] three deliverables that they have to submit to the feds. And so our five year action plan is actually due, uh, May 30th.

Um, so that'll be available for the public to see after May 30th. So that's around the corner. And you'll have a sense of how we're framing some of the issues and how we're gonna address it. Um, the second is the initial proposal, right? The initial proposal we're, we're chunking it up into effectively two volumes.

And so we'll have both those volumes available for public comment or we're targeting. Um, the July 15th, if not sooner period, uh, for folks to look at our additional proposal and have that for a public comment and incorporate that feedback and then submit it to, to the fads. We have a great working relationship with N T I A.

Uh, you know, they've been working pretty laboriously. We ask a lot of questions all the time. I often ask the same questions over and over again. Um, and so they've been great to work with, and so they've been working at the same level of speed and urgency that we are in [00:48:00] helping us address some of these questions and answers.

So what's the third deliverable? Yeah. And the third deliverable is a digital equity plan, and that'll be out for public review May 8th. 

Drew: And the digital equity plan will, will kind of just like what that does versus what the May 30th, five year plan 

Veneeth: does. Yeah. Look, there's a lot of crosswalk, right? There's a lot of things that we're gonna take to the digital equity plan, and you'll see that in the five year plan.

You're gonna see there are elements of the dual equity plan, like questions two and four in the initial proposal speaks directly to tribal, um, coordination str tribal and stakeholder efforts and in coordination and, and to certify that coordination. Right? And so we have done, like I have visited again, our office has visited 88 town cities and villages.

We've had 125 different broadband meetings prior to formal, uh, formally starting our digital equity efforts. Through the digital equity efforts. We've had 29 focus group conversations with a variety of [00:49:00] different, um, covered populations from veterans to disabled folks, um, to folks where English is not the primary language, um, in different populations.

Folks that are formerly incarcerated. We've had seven regional meetings and we've conducted a survey where we've had over 700 responses. So the amount of data, both qualitative and quantitative, is substantial, which is, frankly , a high class problem to have. Um, and now the, the, the bigger challenge is now sifting through it and, and really focusing on the, the, the most important pieces that'll help answer and stitch that story for, for 

Drew: Louisiana too, we have a question from Benjamin Kahn.

He raises the issue of hurricane Ida. Yeah. 21. Obviously Hurricane Katrina's still very much in our popular consciousness about the impact Yes. Of, of natural disasters. What strategies are you employing to ensure that broadband infrastructure is resilience enough to Great, great, great 

Veneeth: question. Great question.

So, Ben, the issues around, look, [00:50:00] we're, we're approaching hurricane season in Louisiana, June one, hurricane seasons June one in November. What's scary is, if you remember back in the, you know, at least from our perspective, And back in, when we were in elementary, you know, the teachers would often give us a little map and they'd give us pushpins and they would, you would track the hurricane from the Western Sahara.

And it, you know, takes 3, 4, 5, 6 days before it crosses the Atlantic Ocean and it goes through the Caribbean. And, uh, the challenge with hurricanes today is that they're not getting any weaker as they approach landfall. In fact, hurricane Ida spooled up in the Caribbean and then quickly made its way up to Louisiana and it didn't, and, and it did not lose substantial strength as it made its way up to North Louisiana.

And in fact, it caused more death in the mid-Atlantic, right? Because it cut through the northeast, uh, then in Louisiana. And so New Orleans. In New Orleans, the levies held up, right? And that's part of the Katrina funds. But what hurricane Ida did [00:51:00] was that it caused far more damage to the telecom infrastructure than Katrina did.

And so, um, as a result of FCC Chairwoman and Brendan Carr, ffc Commissioner, uh, Brendan Carr quickly came to Louisiana when IDA happened. And, um, I think the president issued an executive order, the FCC issued an order, you know, with, with the president buying to ensure that, um, that mandatory now is required among network providers.

I think before it wasn't, but now it's mandatory. Um, but when it comes to our efforts with regards to broadband, you know, we, we, we feel if we're smart with the money, if we decide to do this, we're, we're still in the sandbox phase. You know, we feel that we could be, if we're judicious with our money, you know, we'll, we feel that we can have enough money to, uh, if we wanted to, to build a lot of the infrastructure underground below Interstate 10, especially the community anchor institutions.

But we've partnered with an agency, a state agency called the Coastal Protection [00:52:00] Restoration Authority. Which is helping us with flood modeling risk, especially in the community anchor institutions south of Interstate 10, which are most exposed to hurricanes, um, to help us understand flood modeling risk in over the next 5, 10, 15 years where they think it would make sense to build this infrastructure underground versus above ground.

Um, not only is south of I 10, uh, but also north of I 10, and so they've, they've helped us answer some of those questions and where we think it's needed. You know, maybe we will award points for projects that are built underground to create resilience. 

Drew: We have kind of a two-part from Ebony Cooksley. Uh, one is about sort of the supply chain, and we chatted a little bit about this earlier, but let's, let's come back to it.

The, the, yeah. The question is what recent steps has ConnectLA taken to address supply chain and workforce, uh, uh, shortage, uh, concerns. And then here's another one we haven't talked about, which is with regard to digital [00:53:00] navigators and assisting covered populations with digital skill, uh, enhancement, what are your thoughts about incentivizing paying existing teachers, uh, to service digital navigators and local anchor institutions?

Interesting idea. What, what do you think of that? 

Veneeth: Uh, I think it is hard to solve the digital equity issue with just the three of us in our office. So it is important that we rely on community foundations and we rely on. Organizations like aarp and the Urban League of Louisiana, which does phenomenal work to help us address it Now, you know, I, I, it's, it's interesting on the, you know, digital equity, the folks at East Carroll Parish through the Delta Interfaith, they do a phenomenal job because they have people on the ground.

Not every parish has someone on the ground that's focused on digital equity. So the idea of incentivizing or paying a teacher to do that is, is a [00:54:00] comp complex. It's an interesting idea, but it's probably very complex to execute. Especially, we're in the middle of a legislative session in which the governor is trying to work on teacher pay raises, um, among, among other things.

And so then who else in the community could you incentivize? So we work with the Board of Regents, which governs all the universities and colleges in Louisiana to give $25,000 grants. It's just the start. It's a great start. To five parishes, five parishes, five librarians. So East Carol being one of 'em.

Um, repeats Parish, which is in the, in the middle, uh, uh, west Feliciana, Jefferson Parish, and there's in Livingston Parish, um, to help fund the cost of a digital navigator. And that's what they did, right? And so it, you know, it, it'll be, it's an interesting time to go back to the board, Regents, see how those programs have worked, and then see which ones could be scalable and if that's something we could work with them to help partner and fund.

The librarian to be the [00:55:00] digital navigator since they're on the ground, and that could be a way to 

Drew: Do that. Yeah, Janine. So Soki Suki, uh, uh, uh, asks Are there any government owned networks being funded by these dollars? And that raises a question, right, of course. Because, uh, I believe Louisiana has had, uh, controversies over this, but, uh, there are, uh, local, um, municipal networks in Louisiana.


Veneeth: So there are two actually, Louisiana Lafayette utility, uh, system, right, which owns l u s Fiber. We have committed money to l u s, by the way. And so they, you know, are a municipal MUN own F infrastructure player. And so we've committed money and they're building in a number of locations, um, that we've awarded them.

The other is in the town of Ruston, which is in north Louisiana, um, in, in the town of Ruston. Now their model's a little bit different because it's actually not business to consumer, but it's business to business. But from what I understand, um, they're in the process of selling and divesting. Their infrastructure, [00:56:00] um, for a variety of different reasons, right?

And so you, you've got those two very discrete examples, one selling one we've committed dollars to, but you have, you know, parishes that have looked at investing some of their ARPA dollars or the remaining of their ARPA dollars to build, um, open access networks in the town of, in the parish of oa, which is about an hour east of Baton Rouge on along I 12, just north of New Orleans.

The parish president there is committed to using ARPA dollars to build their open access networks. So, um, you know, we do have, let me take this, you know, we do have the fair labor or not fair labor, the Fair Market Act, and in, and technically if a company or if a municipality wants to build their own network, they can, right?

Um, but they have gotta go through a sequence of steps to be able to do that. I think what parishes are doing is they're seeing that look. We've got other priorities like water and sewer that are especially important in [00:57:00] Louisiana that we want to dedicate some of our funds to. And so let's prioritize that and then lean on, you know, Veneeth the team and the governor legislature to help us with, with the broadband side 

Drew: of things.

Right, right. Well, there's my penultimate question, uh, Veneeth, uh, what, can you just talk a little about the primary challenges your office has encountered and how you've addressed them? And in particular, what systems have you put in place to ensure kind of compliance objectives? So, um, what's your thought on those?

Look, I, I, 

Veneeth: I think the overall, the primary challenges, uh, drew and I, if I'm not answering the question, it's because, uh, this is the primary challenge. The primary challenge is the fluidity and speed of information that we're receiving from the feds on a daily basis, weekly basis. And what we're hearing.

And feeling and seeing at the ground level. So what you're seeing is at the [00:58:00] ground level, there are people like Steve Wallace, who does a great job in Washington Parish as, uh, in their broadband committee, and others who are saying, Vinny, these are the challenges. Let's work quickly. You're seeing the fluidity and information being driven by N T I A and the Fed saying, all right, these are the priority areas from our perspective.

And the idea is, in a three man office, it's making sure that you, you, are reflective and appreciative of all the challenges and, and information we're hearing from the top, all the stuff we're hearing from the bottom and quickly execute. Right. And as part of that, the functional, so those are the, the, the, the daily challenges that we have, the functional challenges around workforce and permitting.

We've got, again, we are very blessed in Louisiana that we've got an incredible group of partners who are unabashed. With sharing their challenges, but not just stopping at sharing their challenges, but are [00:59:00] working with us at any time of day to help us solve that problem. And so, you know, when we had Angela Ty Bennett with us last Friday, who runs a digital equity program, the fact that within a very shortened period we were able to convene a meeting with the CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana, CEO O of a r p, the leader of broadband workforce programs at the Louisiana Community College Technical System, two federally tribe, or, uh, two federal representative, two tribe representatives from, uh, from two federally recognized tribes in Louisiana.

When we had representatives from Dillard University, Xavier, two historic HBCUs, community Foundations come very quickly to say, all right, um, um, what do we need to get going? That gives us sort of the guiding line in terms of trying to address these challenges. Mm-hmm. So yes, we do have challenges, right.

But we feel really good with the partners that we have across the state to help us solve them. 

Drew: So Beneath you, thank you for spending this hour with us. You're, you're, in some [01:00:00] ways, you're kind of a local Baton Rouge, uh, boy. Makes good, right? You're an attendee of, uh, Baton Rouge High School. You've, you've worked, uh, you know, uh, gone to Purdue and, and Johns Hopkins, uh, to, to get a master's of, of science and finance.

And, and you, I mean, I see you everywhere. You're, you've been like on so many boards and, and, and, and, and what I want to ask you, uh, Veneeth is who came up with the name 

Veneeth: Gumbo? Yeah. Let's say, so obviously we like our food, right? So, um, you know, gumbo, you know, came up was, was a germination from the, uh, state representative who helped draft the gumbo bill, right?

So he lives in a voyles, and we, like, he likes gumbo. We all like gumbo. And, uh, he came up with an acronym. Um, but what's interesting is we actually also have an acronym for our digital equity plan. Okay. And so, uh, we'll relieve that. We'll, we'll share that very soon, but it's another, oh, wait, wait, wait, wait.


Drew: You're not 

Veneeth: gonna share it now? No, I'm not gonna share it now [01:01:00] Drew, because I love, I am, 

Drew: I'm so hungry. I am so hungry. 

Veneeth: But, um, let's just say this, it's a, it was a little bit more complex to, um, to get the every individual letter having meaning in this, in this new program. But I need to get clearance from the people at the top.

But yes, it'll be, hopefully, it, it's gonna be an equivalent food just as tasty, uh, just as buttery and rich as, as, uh, other Louisiana Foods, and that'll be forthcoming. 

Drew: Well Veneeth. It's been a real pleasure. Uh, thank you for spending this time with us. Uh, we'll, we'll, we'll be in touch and we'll see. See you soon.

Don't forget to tune in to our next, uh, ask me something. Um, at least right now, we may add another one, but we have Jim Stricken from South Carolina coming up on May 19th Veneeth. Thank you again. 

Veneeth: Have a great weekend, and, uh, we'll see you soon. Actually, we'll see you in a few weeks. Drew in, uh, New Orleans.

We'll, I'll be there. We'll teach you some gumbo and [01:02:00] give you a We're gonna actually, we'll, we'll have, we'll grab lunch or dinner and what you eat you'll realize is gonna be the name of our digital equity program. I'll share that with you in a few weeks. 

Drew: Wonderful. Take care and take care of everybody being with us.

Veneeth: Thanks. Take care. Bye-bye.