Expanding rural broadband and cellular connectivity in Pennsylvania is not merely a matter of technological convenience; it is a pressing necessity that demands immediate action. While urban areas flourish in the digital era, a significant portion of Pennsylvania’s population still struggles with the absence of reliable internet and cellular access.
More than 330,000 households, businesses and community institutions across the Commonwealth currently lack access to dependable internet services. Even though only 26% of Pennsylvania’s population resides in rural regions, a staggering 81% of residences lacking access to reliable internet services are located within rural communities.
This disproportionate digital divide leaves rural communities isolated and handicapped, particularly in times of crisis when connectivity can mean the difference between life and death.
The urgency of this issue is palpable, especially as the recent pandemic magnified the crucial role of internet access for education, telework, and access to vital information and services. Enhanced access to high-speed internet can catalyze innovation, entrepreneurship, and telecommuting opportunities, thereby bolstering the economic fabric of these regions.
Furthermore, it can bridge the educational gap by enabling students to access online resources, digital libraries, and educational platforms, leveling the playing field, and ensuring equal opportunities for learning.
In an age where virtual connectivity is not a luxury but a basic necessity, the lack of reliable internet in rural Pennsylvania is no longer a mere inconvenience, but a perilous setback hampering the growth and well-being of our residents.
Equally critical is the expansion of cellular networks in remote parts of Pennsylvania. Reliable cellular connectivity is not just about making calls or sending texts; it is a lifeline for emergencies, a catalyst for telehealth services, and a bridge for staying connected to the rest of the world.
Without stable internet or cellular service, the response time for critical emergencies can be dangerously prolonged, jeopardizing the lives and well-being of those in need. Time, in such situations, is not just a metric; it is a matter of life and death.
Amidst this digital divide, there is a glimmer of hope. Through the federal American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment in Jobs Act, Pennsylvania has been allocated $1.5 billion to expand fixed, terrestrial broadband to unserved and underserved areas of the Commonwealth.
The initiative to bring rural broadband expansion and cellular service to Pennsylvania is an imperative step toward bridging this gap. This endeavor acknowledges the significance of equitable access to digital resources, recognizing that connectivity is not a privilege but a necessity for every citizen, regardless of their ZIP code.
However, the journey toward comprehensive connectivity faces multifaceted challenges and every delay diminishes the value of the allotted funds available for expansion. The absence of a skilled workforce capable of executing the necessary infrastructure installations remains a persistent obstacle. While the availability of grants from the Department of Labor and Industry aimed at training prospective trade workers is a promising step, the time-consuming nature of the training process inevitably contributes to further delays in implementation.
Moreover, the intricate process of accessing available grant funds demands a collaborative effort between local governments and internet service providers, often further complicated by the notorious delays in Pennsylvania's permitting process. These bureaucratic roadblocks hinder the timely execution of projects, exacerbating the frustrations of both the residents and the entities striving to provide vital connectivity solutions.
The recent lightning-fast repair of the I-95 bridge in a mere 12 days serves as a powerful testament to what can be achieved with focused prioritization and expedited action. The lesson here is clear: when there is a will, there is a way to cut through bureaucratic red tape and bring about tangible change.
While the swift repair of the I-95 bridge demonstrates what can be achieved through streamlined governance, it brings into stark relief the glaring disparities in infrastructure development across the state. Connectivity should be treated with the same level of urgency and importance as our roads and bridges, echoing the spirit of the rural electrification movement of the past.
To achieve the vision of a fully connected Commonwealth, it is imperative for both the state government and private sector stakeholders to collaborate closely. The deployment of state-of-the-art infrastructure, such as fiber-optic networks and 5G technology, combined with strategic investments in last-mile connectivity, can be a game-changer for the entire state, fostering economic growth and empowering residents across our Commonwealth.
The time has come for Pennsylvania to prioritize its efforts, streamline its processes, leverage the available funds, and make universal connectivity a reality for all its residents, regardless of their geographical location. Let us not overlook those who are left in the darkness of digital isolation, but instead, let us build a brighter, more connected future for all.
Representative Charity Grimm Krupa
51st Legislative District
Representative Ryan Warner
52nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Krupa Contact: 833-933-3674
Warner Contact: Patricia Hippler, 717.772.9846