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State asking for help finalizing broadband coverage

Earth digger used to dig down cables for broadband connection in rural area
PinkBadger/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Earth digger used to dig down cables for broadband connection in rural area

Challenging a federal broadband map can help expand Pennsylvanians access to Telehealth, distance learning, remote work opportunities and internet access in general, said Brandon Carson.

“There's a concern about the lack of connectivity in our rural areas," said Carson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. "Frankly, it's been an issue for for quite a while now. And this is a huge opportunity for us with the federal funding that's available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to address this problem."

Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in November 2021. The act included $65 billion to increase access to reliable high-speed internet that will be distributed across states. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a National Broadband Map on Nov. 18.

"This new FCC map is going to be used to determine how that allocation of funding is made to each of the states," said Carson. "It will be based on need."

PA’s broadband authority is asking everyone across the state to make sure the map accurately reflects their community’s internet access speeds. It’s the first step in getting the funding for Pennsylvania. The state held eight listening sessions for residents across the state — including in Luzerne, Union and Tioga counties — to learn about reviewing the FCC broadband access map.

The White House estimates that more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds, especially in more rural areas.

“We're also seeing some challenges in in urban areas,” Carson said.

Underserved addresses are defined as those that lack access to 25 megabits per second download speed and three megabits per second upload speed, said Carson. There's also an underserved area classification that is defined as areas that do not have access to at least 100 megabits per second download speeds and 20 megabits per second upload speeds.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority has until Jan. 9 to submit a bulk challenge to the FCC. The authority is asking communities or organizations that already have data on broadband access to share it with the authority. Residents have until Jan. 13 to submit individual challenges.

Once the challenges are submitted, the FCC will work with internet service providers to verify the information. By June 30 the state is expected to know what its share of funding is to improve broadband access. The broadband authority will then open applications for grants to upgrade access. Updating the internet with fiber connection or a wireless solution will depend on the area, said Carson.

For more details, visit broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.