HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The internet has become a necessity for education, telemedicine, and work meeting, yet an estimated 500,000 Pennsylvanians do not have access to the information superhighway. Both Republicans and Democrats agree it is a major problem and they are both agree it is time to start finding a solution.
“The lack of consistent quality statewide broadband keeps our children from learning and keeps our businesses from growing,” Governor Tom Wolf said.
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House Bill 2071 was signed in December 2021 by Governor Tom Wolf, creating the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, so it could serve as a one stop shop for all things broadband in the state.
But politicians in Harrisburg don’t need to tell rural families in Pennsylvania the difficulties of no or slow internet. Early in the pandemic, abc27 met Eric Beers of York County as she tried to juggle three kids learning virtually, one job, and zero internet.
Beers says she would visit her best friend house and sit outside of it on the porch to do work there, no matter the kind of weather. She and her husband tried to hardwire the house. The first estimate? $10,000. But before they even had time to agree, “they came back with a price of $68,000,” Beers said.
But help is on the way for families like this thanks for federal money and a commitment from both political parties to wire the state. “This is one thing we absolutely agree on that broadband is a necessity, it is not a luxury,” said State Representative Martin Cause (R – McKean/Cameron/Potter).
The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority is up and running and will coordinate the money and the rollout.
“Now is the time for us to think big and make big investments in the people of Pennsylvania,” Gov. Wolf said.
The internet will be high-speed, but getting the unwired will not be. Navigating federal and state bureaucracies will take until next year at the earliest. But, that is better than not at all.
“We must make sure that every Pennsylvanian has access to high speed internet. It is time. We cannot leave another generation behind and, if we do, if will be a travesty,” said State Representative Pam Snyder (D – Greene/Fayette/Washington).
The 11-member board includes secretaries of the Pennsylvania Departments of Agriculture, Community and Economic Development, Education, General Services, and Budget; the executive director for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania; chairperson from the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission; and four legislative members.
“While nearly every Pennsylvanian has likely experienced a dropped cell phone call or experienced frustration with an internet outage, our rural communities deal with this every day,” said Superintendent of Wyalusing Area School District Dr. Jason Bottiglieri, representing the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small School. “We cannot allow a child’s zip code to dictate their success.”
Every state gets at least $100 million, but there is more money available and Pennsylvania wants a piece of that, too.