Legislation would expand broadband access statewide

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The state Senate recently approved a bill that would create a grant program to extend broadband services in rural parts of the state that do not have access to reliable internet networks.

The Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Pilot Program Act would limit funding to businesses and organizations that have demonstrated the ability to construct and administer internet services. The bill would require the groups to provide 20 percent of the funding for a project.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority would administer and act as the fiscal agent for the program.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into view what we in rural Pennsylvania have known for some time – broadband is essential to connectivity, education, safety, and productivity,” state Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-Bedford/Cambria/Clearfield), who sponsored the bill, said. “The time is now to ensure all state residents are afforded the same opportunities.”

Broadband internet access has become a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents need broadband to take classes remotely, work remotely, and have access to services and information.

“The greater need for distance learning, telehealth and more during COVID-19 widened our digital divide,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre/Juniata/Mifflin) said. “Today, we are taking steps to narrow it again.”