Internet Expansion Could Help Rural PA Residents

By Emily Scott, Public News Service
For The Posts

HARRISBURG PA – Pennsylvania is poised to receive $100 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for improving broadband access. Advocates and lawmakers say it has the power to transform rural communities.

Susan Boser, professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said the mid-20th century decline in manufacturing jobs hit rural Pennsylvania towns hardest. She contended, during a Thursday (March 3, 2022) news conference, that broadband connectivity is key to bringing economic development back to these communities.

“On any weeknight, if you would drive into Punxsutawney you’d see cars in the parking lot around the McDonald’s,” Boser recounted. “It’s parents who are sitting there, accessing the broadband so that their children can do their homework. That’s been the state of things in Pennsylvania rural areas for about the last 10 years.”

Her comments came during a news conference hosted by Keystone Research Center and ReImagine Appalachia.

According to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, 500,000 rural Pennsylvanians lack reliable internet coverage. In October, the state awarded $20.6 million to schools and libraries through the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

With a boost from federal funding, state lawmakers also unanimously passed legislation to create the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. It will coordinate the broadband roll-out, including construction of new towers, lines and equipment.

Authority member and Greene County Rep. Pam Snyder said there is a lot of work to do to ensure the process is fair and equitable. “We want to make sure that this money is utilized properly and that it goes to Pennsylvania workers. This is to make sure we are servicing unserved and underserved areas in the Commonwealth,” Snyder said.

The Broadband Development Authority held its first meeting last month and is searching for an executive director. Snyder reported the state has the potential to, and intends to apply for, access to additional funds through the $42 billion federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.

Photo by Igor Vetushko via Deposit Photos, used under license