Some 44,000 homes and businesses across Pennsylvania will be the beneficiaries of a $200 million infusion of federal cash aimed at expanding broadband access across the commonwealth.
The money from the American Rescue Plan is expected to particularly boost rural communities across the state, where access to high-speed internet still remains problematic.
“Too often, families, particularly those in our rural communities, are left at a disadvantage when it comes to high-speed internet access. This $200 million award from the American Rescue Plan will help level the playing field,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said Tuesday as he announced the funding.
The state is in line to receive at least $1 billion more in federal assistance in the coming years as it looks to further close the access gap, Casey’s office said in a statement.
Now that the federal government has approved the funding, it will be sent to the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, the state agency charged with expanding access across the commonwealth.
In an email, a Casey spokesperson said local governments, non-profits, businesses, and economic development organizations can apply for the money through a competitive grant program.
Eligible projects include “the deployment, including last mile deployment, of wired and/or fixed wireless high-speed broadband service infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas of the Commonwealth,” Casey’s spokesperson said.
Under the law, an “underserved area,” is defined as a geographic area in which households or businesses do not have access to at least 100/20 Mbps.
An unserved area is region in which households or businesses do not have access to at least 25/3 Mbps, according to Casey’s office. Funding preference will be given to the latter.
In a 2019 report, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, citing Federal Communications Commission data, found that some 800,000 Pennsylvanians lacked broadband connectivity.
But, researchers noted, the data “[downplayed] the true state of the digital divide because they rely on self-reported data by Internet Service Providers.”
The divide was laid particularly bare at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Pennsylvanians began working and learning almost exclusively from home.
In the years since, the former Wolf administration, buoyed by the influx of federal money, began moving to reduce the ranks of Pennsylvanians who lacked high-speed access.
In February 2022, the state’s new bicameral, bipartisan broadband authority met for the first time to start figuring out how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid to expand internet access across the commonwealth, the Capital-Star reported at the time.
The Biden administration’s $1.1 trillion federal infrastructure law included $65 billion in assistance to develop rural broadband. Each state will get at least $100 million, but billions more will be available through applications for federal aid.
On Tuesday, Casey said he remains similarly committed to expanding access.
“I will continue working to expand high-speed internet in Pennsylvania to ensure families stay connected and small businesses stay competitive in an increasingly digital world,” he said.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.