A group representing rural Pennsylvanians says expanding high speed broadband internet access in the state needs to be a priority this year, but acknowledges funding for infrastructure upgrades continues to be a challenge.
The most recent federal spending bill passed in March 2018 included a $600 million boost to efforts to improve high-speed internet access.
But Vince Philips with the Pennsylvania State Grange, an agricultural and rural advocacy organization, says that’s nowhere near enough to address the problem.
“If you double that, it would not be enough, because the need is so profound,” Philips said. “However, you start somewhere. And $600 million is a pretty good investment by the federal government in this need.”
The Federal Communications Commission estimates about 800,000 Pennsylvanians lack broadband access, but experts say that’s an understatement, considering providers self-report those numbers. In fact, the large majority of the state’s population can’t connect to broadband, according to preliminary results from a Penn State study.
Governor Tom Wolf’s administration allocated $35 million to the issue last year. About half of the funding has been awarded to three state providers that would help about 9,000 rural Pennsylvanians.
The State House formed a broadband caucus last year, but made little progress. Only one of the four items in its legislation package was adopted so far, which calls for the state auditor general to audit the education technology fund. The audit has not begun.
“There are so many moving parts, so many avenues and so many choices to be made,” Philips said. He believes there are ways to utilize and upgrade existing resources in Pennsylvania.
Philips’ organization plans to advocate this year for universal broadband access in the state, starting with an event at the Pa. Farm Show in Harrisburg on Thursday.