HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) — Thursday, Governor Tom Wolf announced Pennsylvania is receiving $6.6 million from the federal government for broadband expansion efforts. The funding is the first round of the roughly $100 million in total that the commonwealth is expected to receive for broadband.
“Pennsylvania’s lack of affordable, accessible broadband is one of the biggest challenges holding our economy back,” said Gov. Wolf. “This $6.6 million is the beginning of a generational change waiting for Pennsylvanians. With guidance from the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority, distribution will be carefully targeted for guaranteed progress,” he added.
The funding comes from the Biden Administration’s “Internet for All” initiative, which resulted from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“The United States Department of Commerce has nearly $50 billion in new funding to bring high-speed internet to every corner of America. We’re calling it the ‘Internet for All initiative’,” said Kevin Gallagher, senior advisor to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “Pennsylvania was one of the first states to sign on to this initiative, and every state and territory has followed your lead since. This means a minimum of $100 million is coming to Pennsylvania,” he added.
However, Gallagher believes Pennsylvania may be slated to receive more than $100 million over the next several years.
“My bet is it will be more than that to ensure that everyone across the Commonwealth has access to high-speed internet and the digital skills they need to use the technology,” said Gallagher.
The first round will primarily be used for planning the deployment of broadband improvements. Officials say this planning and mapping is important because the state will benefit from having a game-plan before larger disbursements of the $100 million start to flow in.
The $6.6 million will be administered by the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, which was the product of bipartisan legislation signed by Gov. Wolf last December. The authority is tasked with dispersing the $100 million, or more, in federal funding to close Pennsylvania’s digital divide.
Last week, the authority released the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Statewide Broadband Plan to address the immediate and long-term needs of Pennsylvanians.
Brandon Carson is the Executive Director of the Broadband Development Authority and says now is an especially important time for public input and stakeholder engagement. Carson specifically addressed the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new National Broadband Map and why it’s critical to ensure the map is accurate.
“This map provides information on the level of Internet service that is available at each household and business nationwide. While the new map is a big step in the right direction from previous maps that were issued by the FCC, it doesn’t accurately report some areas as being served with high-speed Internet, when they are in fact not served,” said Carson.
The authority has partnered with Penn State University to give Pennsylvanians a voice when mapping broadband.
“To ensure that Pennsylvania receives the funding resources needed, we recently announced a partnership with Penn State to develop and update state broadband maps and to help verify the accuracy of the FCC map. Today, we’re encouraging all Pennsylvanians to visit the FCC National Broadband Map website and verify the accuracy of the information that’s being reported for your address prior to January 13th,” said Carson.
Carson adds that individuals have the opportunity to submit a challenge if they feel the information reported for their address is not accurate. The PA Broadband Development Authority will also host listening sessions where individuals can learn more about the FCC maps and how to challenge any inaccurate data.
According to the Governor’s Office, Pennsylvania’s $6.6 million award includes funding from two programs. $5 million from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs and $1.6 million from the Digital Equity Act to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the benefits of a digital economy.
Officials say everyone will benefit from enhanced broadband and high-speed internet, but say the greatest impact may be on schools, especially those in rural districts.
“Families living without broadband face significant barriers in educational opportunities, employment opportunities and access to basic needs such as healthcare through telemedicine,” said Western Beaver County School District and Blackhawk School District Superintendent Dr. Rob Postupac. “For too long now, those in our rural communities have had to live in digital darkness. The time has come to tackle this issue,” he added.
For more information on the PA Broadband Development Authority, including the recent statewide broadband plan, it can all be found here.