Three Counties to Get Better Service in Internet-Poor Areas

HARRISBURG PA – More than 3,200 households and businesses in Montgomery, Berks, and Chester counties that lack internet access entirely, or can use only internet signals that don’t meet current federal standards, will be among recipients of improved bandwidth under terms of a utilities auction conducted Monday (Dec. 7, 2020) by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for Pennsylvania.

The FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction attracted 13 bidders operating within the state. Over the next 10 years, they’ll provide high-speed Internet access in Pennsylvania locations that are either unserved or underserved with bandwidth.

The FCC estimates nearly a million Pennsylvanians lack reliable, high-speed internet availability.

The bidders benefit from federal subsidies totaling $368.7 million that will help lower the cost of building infrastructure needed to support fast internet speeds in network-limited or -barren areas. The money comes from universal service fees paid by both telecommunications companies and cell phone users.

As a result, costs of obtaining better internet service should drop for 184,505 rural or low-income homes and businesses across the Commonwealth. The total includes 558 sites in Montgomery County, 938 in Chester County, and 1,768 in Berks County.

The auction and subsequent build-out within the state are critical to its economy, and educational and healthcare systems, Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday (Dec. 10).

“The current pandemic has vividly demonstrated the pressing need to expand high speed internet access to enable telehealth, and allow students to connect with their classmates and teachers. As a result of this auction, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians will gain this access, which is a significant step toward bridging the digital divide,” the governor added.

To some extent, all school districts serving western Montgomery County – Pottstown, Pottsgrove, Spring-Ford, Perkiomen Valley, Upper Perkiomen, and Boyertown – faced difficulties earlier this year ensuring their students who needed internet access had it. As the pandemic ballooned and education went virtual, several districts bought mobile hot-spot devices to meet the demand. Others arranged for no- or low-cost access to digital service resellers.

In all three counties winning bidders were SpaceX (also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.), and Windstream Services LLC. SpaceX, in California, may be best known as the space rocket manufacturer owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk. It’s currently testing a satellite internet service called Starlink. Windstream, in Arkansas, already provides internet services throughout the state.

A third winning bidder, Frontier Communications based in Connecticut, also will offer services in Chester County.

Photo by Lars Kienle via Unsplash, used under license