New PA Broadband Authority to Oversee ‘Net Expansion

By Emily Scott, Public News Service
For The Posts

HARRISBURG PA – Pinpointing regions of Pennsylvania most in need of infrastructure for high-speed internet access – including pockets of Montgomery, Berks, and Chester counties – is among the first tasks to be tackled by the new Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, established during December (2021).

Part of its mission is to help coordinate the expansion of high-speed internet access throughout the state, in part by managing an influx of at least $100 million from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The money is intended to support construction of new towers, lines and broadband equipment.

More than 800,000 Pennsylvanians lack access to high-speed internet. Of those, more than 500,000 live in rural areas. Increasing internet bandwidth could help students who struggle to connect to virtual classes during the pandemic, according to Sheri Collins, executive director of corporate relations for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

“In some cases, it was not even an opportunity for some of our students,” Collins added. “So if you think about the disconnect, and you think about learning opportunities that may have been missed as a result of that lack of broadband infrastructure, it’s significant.”

AARP Pennsylvania State Director Bill Johnston-Walsh would agree. Expanding internet access across the state remains critical more than two years into the pandemic, he explained, because “it helped older adults better access medical care and contact family” members as the coronavirus raged throughout the state.

“They really want to stay connected to their families, especially their grandchildren,” Johnston-Walsh said. “Utilizing this $100 million is really going to go a long way to ensure we have the health benefits we need through telehealth, and that we really reduce social isolation.”

Photo by Jackson David via Unsplash, used under license