Internet expansion requires partnership, community

Internet expansion requires partnership, community

The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA) has approved and delivered a five-year action plan to expand internet access and help close the “digital divide” between regions that have excellent internet service options and places where residents can’t even log on.

The five-year plan, emerging from the federal Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, has been submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for its approval.

“Everyone in the commonwealth should have access to affordable, high-speed internet,” said Brandon Carson, executive director of the PBDA. “There are more than 276,000 commonwealth households without internet access. The adoption of this plan puts us another step closer to making sure every Pennsylvanian has access to reliable, high-speed internet.”

The five-year action plan identifies expected obstacles to full deployment and discusses various implementation strategies. It also details how PBDA will work with various partners to improve digital access, promote equity, remove obstacles and barriers to services and devices, build resilience within the system and promote all of the benefits of internet connectivity.

The PBDA put in the work to gather the information it needed to formulate the plan. It was developed with input gathered from 21 community conversations across the state and more than 500 participants. Three roundtable sessions were held to gather information and data from digital equity stakeholders, workforce development professionals, and internet service providers.

The action plan also includes a survey that collected 5,920 responses prior to a public comment period that ran from July 26 through Aug. 8, yielding 526 comments on the draft action plan.

The 88-page report outlines the current state of broadband service, obstacles, barriers to expansion and a multi-level implementation plan that at one point gets so detailed, it includes a crew calculator outlining the estimated number of workers — 116,807 workers in 38,344 engineering, site acquisition and installation crews — to install internet solutions to the 333,133 unserved and underserved locations over a five-year period.

The vision, as outlined in the report, is to provide unserved and underserved homes and businesses with the convenience of secure, high-speed broadband internet services, along with all of the health, educational, economic and security benefits it brings to those who have access to it.

It will likely take the same spirit of community and partnership that started on May 11, 1935, the day the federal Rural Electrification Administration (REA), now known as Rural Utilities Service, was created to enable farmers and their neighbors to work together, eventually running power lines to the 94 percent of rural Pennsylvania residents who, at that time, had no access to electricity.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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