HARRISBURG — Wyalusing Superintendent Dr. Jason Bottiglieri was one of many officials who helped Gov. Tom Wolf celebrate the state’s new rural broadband authority on Wednesday and outline steps being taken at the federal level to bring internet connectivity to the north level.
Bottiglieri participated in Wednesday’s press conference as a representative of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. He was joined by state lawmakers, lobbyists and other state officials praising the passage of legislation establishing authority in the state Capitol.
“I stand here to highlight the high-speed internet disparity that exists across the Commonwealth,” Bottliglieri said. “Our children and our families have seen the damage caused by the digital divide in our underserved communities.”
Bottiglieri pointed to the fact that the Wyalusing School District has distributed 200 cellular hotspots to families in the district, but noted that the flow of funds from the Emergency Connectivity Fund that has contributed so much to the effort will eventually expire. and that a more permanent solution is needed.
“These families will then be back in an unserved status and these students will miss homework and have limited opportunities for independent research and inquisition.”
Expanding broadband statewide would be more than just schoolwork, Bottiglieri said. For example, people could better access telehealth services. The superintendent also pointed to a school bus accident he had responded to where communication and response was affected by lack of connectivity.
“As educators, we are responsible for developing students who are college and career ready,” Bottiglieri said, “21st century learners want to collaborate with their peers, connect with their communities, and develop relationships with future employers around the world All of this requires connectivity.
Bottiglieri concluded with his support for state efforts to expand broadband. “Ensuring equitable access to reliable high-speed Internet is absolutely essential for Pennsylvania today and for our future. We thank and support the governor and legislators for their work to ensure this barrier is removed. »
The push to expand broadband across the state was a rare bipartisan effort in Harrisburg with Bill 96 of 2021, which establishes the Rural Broadband Authority, passing the state legislature with unanimous approval. State Representative Martin Causer (R-67), who was a strong advocate of authority, echoed Bottiglieri’s statements. “Believe it or not, we disagree on some things in this building. But, this is one thing we absolutely agree on. Broadband is a necessity, not a luxury.
The Rural Broadband Authority will work to coordinate and consolidate state efforts and federal funds to bring reliable, inexpensive high-speed Internet service to underserved communities.
Wolf mentioned that $100 million in federal funds specifically earmarked for broadband expansion will come to Pennsylvania, which the authority will oversee. The funding will be used to build new towers and traffic lines as well as provide other amenities and services.
The Department of Community and Economic Development will create a website with the latest information.
Wolf was unable to commit to a timeline for the federal funds to be made available, but noted that Pennsylvania forming such a body as the authority puts it further ahead in the process than many others. States.