Pa. Governor discusses broadband expansion while in Pittston
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro believes being connected to the internet isn't a luxury.
"It really is a necessity," he said.
Shapiro was at the Pittston Memorial Library Wednesday to discuss the state's $1.16 billion in funding for broadband improvements from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Job Acts.
During the event, he said there are 276,000 Pennsylvania households, businesses and other establishments that do not have access to broadband. Another 52,000 establishments have unreliable access, he added. With the federal funding from the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, the state hopes to change that.
Studies show that when people are connected to high speed internet, they have better education, health care, economic and job outcomes, he said.
"Connecting people to high speed, affordable internet right now is going to help grow our economy and help strengthen our communities," Shapiro said. "I also think it's just common sense.”
In Luzerne County, 7,000 households, businesses, schools and libraries are underserved or unserved, said State Sen. Marty Flynn.
In 2021, while still under some pandemic restrictions, Luzerne County libraries public computers were used 34,000 times and its wireless broadband connections accessed well over 40,000 times, said Pittston Memorial Library Director Jessica Lane.
That number has only risen in the past 18 months, she said.
"I speak for all of the libraries in Luzerne County when I say we truly understand the importance and ultimate human right that it is, that it has become in the 21st century to have sufficient access to broadband services," Lane said.
Pennsylvania’s Broadband Development Authority is working on a five-year plan to deploy the resources and make internet affordable, said Shapiro. That plan must first be approved by the federal government. Once the funding is in hand, crews could then start laying cables, putting up towers and making the state’s new broadband infrastructure a reality, the governor said.
"If you are one of those hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who lack internet access, you will begin to see activity in communities across Pennsylvania later this year, and then really ramping up early next year," he said.
The impact of no or slow connections holds the entire state back, Shapiro said.
"It really is important to state the obvious that broadband connectivity or lack thereof, it's not an urban issue or a rural issue, it really is a Pennsylvania issue," he said.
The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority also received an additional $200 million, said Brandon Carson, director. That funding will be awarded to local governments, businesses and nonprofits that are working to expand internet service, he said.
"We're committed to finally closing the digital divide," Carson said.