Expanded internet access in PA expected under new broadband authority | State

Pennsylvania stands to gain at least $100 million to improve broadband access from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, established last month, will help coordinate the expansion of high-speed internet access throughout the state, by managing the influx of federal funds to support the construction of new towers, lines and broadband equipment.

Bill Johnston-Walsh, Pennsylvania state director for AARP, said nearly two years into the pandemic, expanding internet access across the state is critical, as it helped older adults better access medical care and contact family during COVID-19.

“They really want to stay connected to their families, especially their grandchildren,” Johnston-Walsh pointed out. “And utilizing this $100 million is really going to go a long way to ensure that we have the health benefits we need through telehealth and that we really reduce social isolation.”

More than 800,000 Pennsylvanians lack access to high-speed internet, with more than 500,000 of those residents living in rural areas.

Sheri Collins, executive director of corporate relations for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, said increasing internet bandwidth could help students who struggled to connect to virtual class during the pandemic.

“And in some cases, it was not even an opportunity for some of our students,” Collins explained. “So if you think about the disconnect, and you think about learning opportunities that may have been missed as a result of that lack of broadband infrastructure, it’s significant.”

Collins noted the department is currently working on identifying state lawmakers to serve on the Broadband Development Authority. From there, the team will begin to pinpoint regions in the state most in need of infrastructure for high-speed internet access.

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