Governor Tom Wolf was joined by Office of Broadband Initiatives Acting Executive Director Sheri Collins and representatives from Pennsylvania’s business, education, and municipal sectors at a press conference at the Capitol. The participants discussed their individual challenges with broadband access and how the bipartisan Restore Pennsylvania proposal will help close the digital divide.
“One of the biggest challenges holding back Pennsylvania’s economy is lack of universal broadband access,” Governor Wolf said. “Everyone here today told us about how the negative effects of not having access are numerous and far-reaching. Thankfully, we have a plan in Restore Pennsylvania that can provide the funds necessary to expand access to high-speed internet to everyone.”
Restore Pennsylvania, the $4.5 billion bipartisan proposals funded through a commonsense severance tax, will provide funding to completely bridge the digital divide in every community in Pennsylvania. Funding will be available to support the installation of infrastructure to bring high-speed internet to every corner of the commonwealth.
Nearly a million Pennsylvanians today lack access to robust, reliable, high-speed internet according to the Federal Communications Commission. Lack of broadband access affects almost every sector. In education, lack of broadband access hurts students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. In business, companies have difficulty recruiting premier talent in areas where broadband isn’t readily available for the employee and their family at home. In health care, broadband is needed for effective telemedicine and ensuring emergency medical services personnel can provide the fastest, best care possible.
“As educators, we know how important it is for our students to have broadband internet access beyond the school walls,” said Dr. Brian Griffith, superintendent of Penns Valley Area School District. “A reliable, affordable, and scalable broadband internet connection is essential to be competitive with learners from across this commonwealth and around the world. It’s time we step up and lead the way toward developing the type of contemporary learner we not only desire but need. I believe Restore Pennsylvania is a plan that will help achieve this goal.”
“Fast-growth, digitally-native businesses like ours are extremely dependent on broadband internet,” said Todd Wolfenberg, CEO of Yoga International based in Honesdale, Wayne County. “Those businesses can only grow and recruit top talent if high-speed internet is readily available. This is a challenge in Wayne County and many other areas of the state. We support the Restore Pennsylvania initiative because we know firsthand that those who don’t have high-speed access will get left behind—and that businesses will have a harder time competing in an increasingly global marketplace.”
The problem also disproportionately affects rural areas. According to a report published last month from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, internet connectivity speeds are substantially slower in rural counties than in urban ones. Due to the cost of broadband infrastructure, local municipalities cannot fund the purchase and installation of that infrastructure themselves. If passed into law, Restore Pennsylvania will support every phase of the process from feasibility testing to connection at a level far beyond any existing funding mechanisms.
“One of the main goals of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative and Tri-Co Connections is to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet services to the unserved and underserved homes, farms and businesses across rural Northcentral Pennsylvania,” said Craig Eccher, president and CEO of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative. “We expect the availability of broadband internet service to spur economic development in our region, creating opportunities in areas such as telemedicine, education, teleworking and opening doors for future business ventures. Restore Pennsylvania will ensure the construction of desperately-needed rural broadband infrastructure continues to be built across the commonwealth.”