Pa. broadband authority presents plan to improve high-speed internet access, infrastructure

The Wolf administration announced this week that it is moving forward with a plan to address lagging access to broadband internet connectivity across Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, a 12-member independent agency of the Department of Community and Economic Development, released its plan this week for spending more than $100 million in federal funds to expand broadband access in Pennsylvania. 

The authority unanimously approved the 19-page plan on Nov. 17. It focuses on short-term and long-term ways to improve broadband access, including improving broadband service infrastructure and availability, digital equity, and affordability, device and technology access, and digital literacy and technical support.

The plan noted that approximately “2.6 million Pennsylvania residents in 1.3 million, or 26 percent of households — including 25 percent of Latino and 35 percent of Black American Households — either do not have access to or have not adopted high-speed broadband or may lack the skills to effectively use it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many Americans to work, attend school, and be seen by healthcare providers virtually. And it spurred Congressional lawmakers to take up bills for infrastructure projects that included high-speed internet connectivity funding.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was signed into law in November 2021, allocated approximately $65 billion to broadband infrastructure development and accessibility projects across the country. 

“Equal access to the internet, regardless of location or income, must be provided if Pennsylvania is to remain competitive,” authority Executive Director Brandon Carson said. “Broadband access affects every area of our lives – from work, to education, to health, and safety. Closing the digital divide helps enhance our communities and fosters economic growth and innovation for all Pennsylvanians.”

Kyle Kopko, the executive director for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania said the plan is “comprehensive and forward thinking” and focuses on more than just broadband infrastructure. 

“We need to make sure that citizens can actually access and know how to use the internet or set up a wireless network,” Kopko said. “Those things can be tremendous barriers.”

Kopko said that the plan is intended to be an “evolving document that would be periodically reassessed.”

Pennsylvania’s rural farmers and agricultural producers have also been affected by the lack of high-speed internet access across the commonwealth. 

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that 61 percent of Pennsylvania farms access the internet via broadband, and 33 percent conduct business over the internet. Twenty percent of Pennsylvania farms use precision agriculture, such as drones, computerized equipment, and data-driven seeding, to manage crops or livestock.

“These are all technologies that are being developed and that could really benefit our agricultural communities,” Kopko said, adding that the plan is “trying to reach as many people as possible.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture confirmed Wednesday that department leadership and the Rural Development Council provided input for the plan. State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding serves as a member of the authority.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, whose term ends in January 2023, expressed confidence in the plan, saying it will “ensure consistent, affordable, quality statewide broadband to keep children learning, businesses growing, and opportunities abounding for all Pennsylvanians.”



Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Cassie Miller

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