BELLEFONTE — During a mid-week stop at Marion-Walker Elementary School in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf was joined by U.S. Department of Commerce Under Secretary Jed Kolko to talk about getting rural broadband internet throughout the Commonwealth.
Wolf talked about the need to provide high-speed internet to rural Pennsylvania schools and communities with support from the federal government. He talked specifically about the Biden-Harris Administration’s $45 billion Internet for All Initiative and Pennsylvania’s readiness to manage more than $100 million in federal funds to deploy affordable, high-speed internet to all Pennsylvanians.
During Wednesday’s visit to Marion-Walker, Kolko — who spoke first — said that high-speed internet is a must for all Pennsylvanians.
“Pennsylvania is one of the first states to sign up to be part of the Internet for All Initiative. That means Pennsylvania is signing up for affordable, reliable high speed internet for every community, every person in the state. This will give Pennsylvanians more opportunities to find a job, take online classes, access healthcare, expand your business and, of course, visit with your grandchildren,” Kolko said.
According to Kolko, high-speed internet is no longer a luxury. Every community, he said, needs access.
“We learned during the pandemic that for many it’s not a comfort, but a necessity. It’s also a lifeline,” Kolko said.
Wolf spoke about the need for access to broadband internet in rural areas just like Centre County.
“In this 21st century world, connectivity matters. Whether you’re urban or rural, we all need and deserve access to the tools that connect people around the world to increased opportunity. I’m glad that the Biden administration shares this commitment to expanding broadband access and improving affordability,” Wolf said.
According to Wolf, Pennsylvania will receive at least $100 million from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program. Hundreds of millions in additional formula funding will be made based on the forthcoming coverage maps from the Federal Communications Commission. To prepare for this funding and ensure oversight and support for broadband deployment in Pennsylvania, Wolf and Pennsylvania’s General Assembly worked across party lines to create the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority.
“Here in Pennsylvania, we have a lot of plans for that money. One of our goals is to invest in better and more affordable broadband internet for every Pennsylvanian, all across Pennsylvania. Broadband is essential in today’s society. It’s as important as electricity and water. Our lack of consistent and affordable, quality statewide broadband keeps children from learning efficiently and effective online,” Wolf said.
Wolf introduced Dr. Joy Miller, a school psychologist in the Bellefonte Area School District. She said that the need for reliable high-speed internet is real.
“When I was first thinking about this concern, the main thing that comes to mind is the consistency. That is very important in my household as well in many of my neighbors and communities for school purposes. One of the concerns that we have is the struggle to access what we need on a daily basis,” Miller said.
She said that the lack of connectivity became very apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit, all of a sudden we have three of us trying to do school from home and also work from home. It just really hit … not only is consistency and reliability an issue, but speed is also,” Miller said.
According to Miller, there are just two providers in the area where she resides. Neither, she said, is able to provide consistent service.
Kyle Kopko, executive director for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, talked about the lack of broadband internet in Centre County — and beyond.
“Based on our analysis of the most recent available census data, there are more than 219,000 households in rural communities that don’t have internet,” Kopko said.
Following the speeches, Wolf took a brief tour of the elementary school with a few select students and administrators.
Bellefonte Area School District superintendent Tammie Burnaford said that it was exciting for the district to host Wolf and the other dignitaries.
“It’s quite an honor to host him, especially whenever we’ve had such struggles with broadband,” Burnaford said. “To be part of that announcement about connectivity in our district, which has been weak in some of our areas, was really something.”
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