Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (Authority) Executive Director Brandon Carson announced that the Authority unanimously voted on November 10 to contract with Penn State Extension to develop and update state broadband maps to directly enable the commonwealth to maximize its federal funding allocation for high-speed internet expansion.
“Contracting with Penn State Extension will bring the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority one step closer to meeting its mission to expand broadband services to unserved and underserved areas of the commonwealth,” said Carson. “The services Penn State Extension will provide will help to close the digital divide and allow Pennsylvanians to get connected at home, work, or on the road.”
Through this initiative, Penn State Extension plans to develop and update state broadband maps; evaluate the accuracy of industry-provided Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data to inform the commonwealth challenge process; provide geo-analytics, data analysis, and cost estimating for fiber to the premises to support local data-driven decisions about broadband deployment; and promote digital equity in underserved populations through strategic partnerships. The project is expected to run through June 30, 2023.
Brent Hales, Penn State Extension director and associate dean in the College of Agricultural Sciences, noted that Extension enters this initiative following its successful partnership with the state Public Utility Commission to develop the map that helped Pennsylvania receive $368 million from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which is expected to enable 327,000 Pennsylvanians to gain access to high-speed internet.
“Our partnership with the PUC has enabled Penn State Extension to better serve the people and the communities of the commonwealth,” Hales said. “We are gratified to support future investment in Pennsylvania’s broadband infrastructure and look forward to facilitating new opportunities for broadband deployment. I also want to recognize the efforts of our team and their tireless efforts and enthusiasm.”
The broadband initiative will focus on providing publicly accessible and open-source data mapping and analysis tools where stakeholders can visually identify unserved broadband areas. Additionally, the maps will make transparent current FCC broadband data, demographics, and infrastructure data to inform the challenge processes for residents of the commonwealth. Determining the correct number of unserved and underserved households in the commonwealth will be critical to determining the state’s portion of the $42.5 billion available under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for broadband deployment projects through a program called Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD). Rules for the BEAD program call for the funding to be allocated based, in large part, on each state’s percentage of unserved locations, according to updated FCC broadband maps.