No one-size fits all solution can be applied to expanding broadband access, leaving state leaders scrambling to find diverse strategies for distributing funds and encouraging investment. Pennsylvania State Grange President Wayne Campbell, however, proposed a creative solution last week during a panel discussion at the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. According to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, Campbell proposed a $.75 to $1.00 surcharge per-month on all cell phone users to support financing small, matching state grants for local broadband projects.
“While expanding the access and quality of rural internet access is a bipartisan goal, little has actually been done to address the elephant in the room,” Campbell said. “We don’t endorse any one way of funding it, what we do endorse is the government looking at every possibility.”
Last June, PA Governor Tom Wolf launched a massive infrastructure plan, Restore PA – a multi-billion-dollar bond program, funded by 20 years of a state severance tax on natural gas production, to pay for a host of statewide infrastructure projects. The initiative, however, is on the legislative back burner due to Republican pressure to create a broadband task force before decisions are made to increase state revenues.
While legislators review and discuss, one organization has stepped forward with an alternative plan for state-wide broadband. As reported by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative currently provides electricity to seven of Pennsylvania’s Northern tier counties and is proposing a “$77 million project to bring high speed internet access to parts of its 5,000 square mile coverage area.”
Rachel Hauser, top cooperative staffer, said, “Financial aid from the federal government and state government is helping to make the investment possible — including $15.7 million from the state. While there is a big upfront cost, the hope is a bigger down the road payoff.”
Tri-County promises to deliver internet speeds 100 times faster than what area residents, “can currently expect on the best day ever. This is going to have a drastic effect on economic and community development,” Hauser said.
While funding options still sit on the table for legislative review, it remains unclear which direction Pennsylvania will take. It’s clear, though, that Pennsylvania risks being left behind in the race for 5G if strategies aren’t decided and acted upon soon.