(TNS) – Governor Tom Wolf visited Marion-Walker Elementary School on Wednesday to highlight how millions in federal funds could help bring internet access to schools and rural communities in Pennsylvania.
The Commonwealth is set to receive $100 million under the Biden-Harris administration’s Internet for All initiative. The recently announced initiative will help build internet infrastructure, provide technology and teach skills to ensure all Pennsylvanians have full online access, Wolf said.
“Broadband is essential in today’s society,” he said. “It’s as important as power and water. Our statewide lack of affordable and consistent quality broadband allows children to learn effectively online. … It prevents businesses to expand, limits employment opportunities for workers, and narrows the medical care options open to patients statewide.”
Joy Miller, a school psychologist for the Bellefonte Area School District, has experienced first-hand the impact unreliable internet access can have on students, parents and teachers. Miller’s family has been negatively affected by an inability to connect to distance learning programs and telehealth visits with doctors.
“Over the years the pandemic hit and suddenly there were three of us trying to homeschool and then work from home,” Miller said. “There is not only a problem of consistency and reliability, but also of speed.”
There are more than 219,000 households in Pennsylvania without internet access and 178,000 households without computers, said Kyle Kopko, executive director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.
The governor was joined in Marion-Walker by Jed Kolko, U.S. Department of Commerce Undersecretary, who stressed that internet access is vital for businesses, students, families and communities. The program will not only create thousands of jobs, but also open up the possibility of remote work for people in rural areas, Kolko said.
“High-speed internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Kolko said. “And we’ve learned during the pandemic that for many it’s not just a necessity, it’s also a lifeline.”
Pennsylvania is one of 34 states supporting the initiative, said Kolko, who urged other states to join the program.
“Each state with an approved plan will receive a minimum of $100 million and the rest will be divided according to need,” Kolko said. “That means that ultimately for most states the final price could be well over $100 million, maybe even as high as $1 billion in total.”
Wolf said providing Pennsylvanians with high-speed Internet access is a priority of his administration and that these investments will help the state’s economic development.
“It’s going to open up a whole world of new opportunities for all of us, helping students learn, helping employees work, and helping businesses grow so all Pennsylvanians thrive,” Wolf said. “Most importantly, this money will set our Commonwealth on the path to a much brighter future.”
Tammie Burnaford, district superintendent, said Marion-Walker was the perfect place to talk about broadband issues because access has been a challenge for the district. The experience was also important for the fourth and fifth graders who attended the governor’s speech, as they learn about the federal and state governments in their classrooms.
“It’s such an honour, it’s an absolute honor for us to be able to welcome him and be part of these discussions,” Burnaford said. “This is a unique opportunity for our children, for our staff and for our district.”
© 2022 The Center Daily Times (State College, Pennsylvania). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.