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Better Internet Access Comes to Pennsylvania with Landmark Broadband Bill Passed

(WETM) – As internet connectivity has become the essential medium of communication for much of the world, especially during the pandemic, many rural areas in Pennsylvania have been left behind.

Lack of internet access is one of the most critical issues in the state. Many areas of the state have a landscape that makes connectivity so difficult.

“Frankly, it is high time this happened. Being 21 years old in the 21st century, it is a failure on the part of too many people that so many in our Commonwealth do not have access to what is now a basic vital necessity, ”said the head of the majority of Pennsylvania Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R- Center / Mifflin).

Now, finally, the hope is there. Pennsylvania will receive $ 100 million from President Biden’s infrastructure package that will specifically focus on improving broadband Internet access.

On Monday, December 13, Pennsylvania lawmakers with bipartisan backing passed legislation that would create a single entity, officially called the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. House Bill 2071 created this organization as a single point of contact who will make decisions on how to implement the plan and disburse the funds to bring broadband across the state.

Counties and regions can apply for grants from this fund.

Farms in Pennsylvania lag behind the national average in Internet access.

It would be a boon for the region. According to a report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, only 64% of farms in Pennsylvania report having access to the Internet, compared to 82% of farms nationwide.

Pennsylvania can get more money for better access

While $ 100 million may seem like a lot, the state might have the option of receiving, even more, some estimate as high as $ 500 million.

Biden’s infrastructure package has allocated $ 42.5 billion to the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program where each state will be allocated that initial $ 100 million. States could then be offered grants if they can come up with clear implementation plans.

But not all states get the extra money.

“If they [states] can show that they have a plan and that they need more money, there will be more money available… This bill [H.B. 2071] put us in a position to be able to claim, what some say, an additional $ 400 million, ”said Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Wellsboro).

These grants will be prioritized for unserved and underserved areas.

“It will be an all-out blitz,” Owlett said. “All the other states are going to do the exact same thing, so it’s going to be a race to the table, and this [bill] is positioning Pennsylvania in a solid way, to hopefully get a head start. “

Internet access brings Democrats and Republicans together

The Federal Communications Commission has reported that nearly one million Pennsylvanians do not have access to reliable high-speed internet access. But, a 2019 Center for Rural Pennsylvania study found that the already alarming FCC data may have been seriously underestimated, when it comes to the number of Pennsylvanians who lack high-speed internet connections. .

After analyzing the connectivity speeds of 11 million Pennsylvania homes, the study found that median internet speeds across the state were so low that they could not be called a “broadband connection.” based on the FCC’s own criteria. Even more in rural areas, the researchers found that connectivity speeds were “considerably slower”.

Pennsylvania Republicans and Democrats haven’t come to a consensus on much lately. But broadband access was recognized as essential by both parties.

In a statement, Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) said he congratulated the House and Senate “for their efforts to quickly pass this bill which will help provide high-speed Internet to students, businesses and residents of all of Pennsylvania “.

The independent authority was put in place for six years. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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