HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – A major bipartisan broadband bill moved swiftly through the Pennsylvania legislature last month.
House Bill 2071, now Act 96 was approved by Gov. Tom Wolf on Dec. 22.
The law establishes the Broadband Development Authority, which will be tasked with the coordination and funding of the commonwealth’s broadband expansion efforts. Especially for those in rural areas.
“They will have the ability then to bring in expertise, to make sure that we are providing and deploying broadband to unserved and underserved areas,” said HB 2071 cosponsor, Rep. Pam Snyder (D-Greene, Fayette, Washington).
The 11-member board that will make up the new authority will also allocate and distribute funds for expansion where they are needed most. The authority will serve as a vehicle for a more comprehensive, statewide effort, instead of the current patchwork approach.
“Right now, we’ve got sporadic projects going on in different areas, but there is no comprehensive plan,” said bill sponsor Rep. Martin Causer (R-Mckean, Cameron, Potter). “We’ve got to have that coordination, and that’s why we need this authority to come up with, and develop a statewide plan so that no part of the Commonwealth is left behind,” he added.
$100 million from the federal government are headed to each state for broadband rollout. However, billions more are also available.
“This bill truly has allowed Pennsylvania to be poised to get all of the federal dollars that we possibly can to deploy broadband across this commonwealth,” said Snyder. “If we didn’t have this in place, there would be a really good chance that Pennsylvania wouldn’t get anything over the $100 million.”
Snyder says the commonwealth definitely needs the extra federal funding. Without the Broadband Development Authority, it would have been difficult to orchestrate the planning and necessary financing of broadband projects.
“It would be a travesty because we all know how important it is, especially in the rural areas,” said Snyder.
Snyder says she has been pushing this legislation for several sessions. She attributes the COVID-19 Pandemic to the bill’s success.
“I have been working on this for five years. But the pandemic really brought the lack of broadband to the forefront,” Snyder added.
The process and rollout of broadband infrastructure will likely vary depending on the area.
“It’s not a one-item-fix. You know, we need fiber, we need satellite, we need Wi-Fi, we need to be able to have it all on the table,” said Snyder
“Some of it will be wireless, some of it will be fiber to homes, some of it a cable connection,” said Causer.
Both lawmakers stressed the importance of ensuring enhancement and funding goes to communities who need it the most, and not to those with adequate broadband.
“We do not want to see over-builds in areas that already have adequate broadband,” said Snyder
Causer also says it’s important to be fiscally responsible with the rollout and to build upon what already exists.
“Looking at the work that’s already been done with the mapping and looking at exactly where we do have assets and where broadband does exist,” said Causer.
Gov. Wolf applauded the efforts of the legislature after the bill passed unanimously.
Both parties agree broadband access, especially in rural communities, is an important bipartisan issue.
“This is how Harrisburg should work. We should be working in a bipartisan manner to make people’s lives better,” said Snyder.