Pennsylvania to receive ‘hundreds of millions’ to help fund rural internet expansion

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey recently said Pennsylvania will receive more than $20 million to expand broadband and high-speed internet access in the Southern Alleghenies region.

It is part of a number of efforts statewide to extend high-speed internet in a more equitable way.

Last summer, the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units and Penn State Extension conducted a survey to determine students’ home access to internet. Its purpose was to help school districts identify pockets without internet access and have internet-­related data available for grant applications, including for the $7.1 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund launched by the Federal Communications Commission in May.

During the summer of 2020, the Westmoreland Library Network partnered with internet provider DQE Communications to extend broadband to 16 community libraries in the county.

This past fall, Murrysville officials began to consider using some of the $1.9 million it received from the American Rescue Plan to expand broadband access in the municipality.

“I think it’s vital,” Murrysville Chief Administrator Jim Morrison told council members.

The $20 million announced by Casey will pave the way for the Rural Broadband Infrastructure Expansion in the Alleghenies project, spearheaded by officials in Huntingdon County in partnership with Fulton and Bedford counties.

Its goal is to deploy “last-mile” internet — the final stretch of an internet connection leading directly to a home or business — via a series of fixed hubs that send a wireless internet signal directly to homes and businesses without the need for a cable or phone line.

“The pandemic has shown us how vital strong and reliable high-speed internet access is for families across the nation,” Casey said. “This is just the start of hundreds of millions of dollars coming to the Commonwealth thanks to the infrastructure law to better connect Pennsylvanians to the world.”

Those hundreds of millions are coming via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provide nearly $43 billion in grants for broadband infrastructure across the U.S. over the next five years.

More than $14 billion also is being put toward direct subsidies at $30 per month to qualifying households to help with the purchase of broadband services.

In Westmoreland County, 86.5% of households had a computer between 2015-19, according to census data. During that same period, 80% of households had a broadband internet subscription. In Allegheny, 89% of household had a computer between 2015-19, while almost 84% had a broadband internet subscription, data show.

Author: Patrick VarinePublication: Trib Live