Governor’s Plan Needs $1 Billion To Close Pennsylvania’s Digital Divide

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Gov. Tom Wolf’s $4.5 billion Restore Pennsylvania initiative includes various improvements for the state, including policies aimed at closing the digital divide in every community, reported the Reading Eagle.

According to a report released by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, “there were zero counties in the state where at least 50 percent of residents received adequate broadband connectivity, as defined by the [FCC].” Sheri Collins, acting director of the Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives, said, “The broadband issue is front and center because, without broadband infrastructure, we’re not going to move forward as a commonwealth from a competitiveness standpoint.”

Collins has spoken with different residents in rural areas including small businesses who require broadband to operate, farmers needing access to fill equipment needs, school students who lack a connection at home, and emergency personnel who have trouble accessing patient information due to dead zones. “Broadband,” Collins said, “touches everything we do.”  

Collins estimates it will cost $1 billion in public funds to close the digital divide in the state, but some limitations exist. One, is that the initiative’s proposed source of funding is uncertain to arrive; and Collins’ $1 billion estimate of the cost of broadband connectivity is nearly a quarter of the total for the initiative overall, which includes six other areas, reported the Eagle.

Wolf’s plan proposes obtaining $4.5 billion over four years, borrowed against a severance tax on natural gas, which lawmakers have so far rejected.

Collins urged lawmakers to reconsider how to get all Pennsylvanians to a level of broadband connectivity many see as a necessity in the 21st century, which will require coordination between government, industry, and communities. Given limited funds, she said she would seek to focus on areas most severely lagging.

June 18, 2019

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