State Announces Broadband Plan; County says it will follow developments | local news

Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority has released a statewide broadband plan that addresses both the immediate and long-term needs of the Commonwealth.

“Today, broadband is as important as electricity and water. But there’s a digital divide in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “This plan will ensure consistent, affordable, and high-quality nationwide broadband so children learn, businesses grow, and opportunity abounds for all Pennsylvanians.”

In Indiana County, Executive Director Byron G. Stauffer Jr. of the Indiana County Development Corporation and the Indiana County Office of Planning & Development said the PBDA is working to allocate federal funds for broadband development in the near future.

“We’re following all of this,” Stauffer said on Monday. “Our approach is to be prepared with projects ready to go, which the (County Board of) Commissioners have done by issuing (a call for proposals), resulting in proposed $80-$90 million broadband projects led.”

At the November Board meeting, the commissioners proposed awarding a contract for broadband services by December 22nd. Chief Executive R. Michael Keith said six different proposals are being considered by ICOPD.

“Some admittedly overlap, but they are currently being reviewed and are on the commissioners’ agenda for December 21,” Stauffer said.

Even with overlap, Commissioner Sherene Hess said the district is trying to squeeze $88 million worth of proposals into the $7 million the district has available for broadband.

Wolf signed into law creating PBDA in December 2021. It was formed through a bipartisan partnership to serve as the one-stop shop for all broadband issues in Pennsylvania and to manage more than $100 million in federal funds and work to close Pennsylvania’s digital divide.

The governor said the PBDA’s plan to expand broadband across the Commonwealth focuses on challenges and opportunities, including improving infrastructure and availability of broadband services, digital equity and affordability, device and technology access, and digital literacy and technical support.

To achieve that lofty goal, Wolf said, the Commonwealth is committed to:

• Maintaining current and accurate data on unserved and underserved populations

• Removing barriers to broadband deployment

• Supporting and retaining a qualified workforce

• Ensure devices are available and affordable

• Ensure multiple affordable service options are available

• Ensure affordable options are sustainable

• Providing training so that every person can acquire basic digital skills

• Development of a technical support network

“Equal access to the Internet, regardless of location or income, must be provided if Pennsylvania is to remain competitive,” said PBDA Executive Director Brandon Carson. “Broadband access affects every aspect of our lives – from work to education to health and safety. Closing the digital divide helps improve our communities and fuels economic growth and innovation for all Pennsylvania residents.”