A big announcement from the Wolf Administration on Thursday. The Governor announced $6.6 Million in Federal funding is coming to the Commonwealth. It’s part of President Biden’s Internet For All initiative. Gov. Wolf says the money will be used to ensure Pennsylvanians have equal access to Broadband.
The efforts to expand internet access and rural broadband are an ongoing issue. But a new FCC map has Commissioners in some of our Counties concerned. We spoke with some about the problems and what you can do to help. Major steps have been taken to expand rural broadband in recent years, but the next step could be critical.
Centre County Commissioner Mike Pipe saying: “The Federal Government is gonna be releasing billions of dollars to improve broadband across the country. So, the way the money’s gonna be allocated and the way that projects will be approved, will really be through these maps.”
The online map shows the FCC’s interpretation of which addresses can and can’t access high-speed broadband, but Commissioners in some Counties say the map has a problem. Huntingdon County Commissioner Jeff Thomas saying: “That’s my comment on the FCC maps. They are not accurate.”
Jeff Thomas is a Huntingdon County Commissioner — and the Chair of Alleghenies Broadband Incorporated. Thomas saying: “They may only have one or two homes along a main highway served. But, because one or two homes are served in a census block, they say the whole census block is served, and that’s untrue. Three quarters of that census block may be unserved. There’s a big need in rural Pennsylvania.” They especially noticed that need during the pandemic. Thomas adding: “The kids in rural Huntingdon County could not do their schoolwork because they didn’t have internet.”
Since the State uses the same map as the FCC to allocate its Broadband funds, inaccurate maps can bring a host of issues — possibly undermining rural broadband expansion. Huntingdon County Commissioner Scott Walls adding: “The maps don’t reflect in the money we’ve already spent, and we don’t wanna pay to recover those areas, but we also wanna make sure the funds are used to cover those are needed.”
Beside the accuracy of the map — or lack thereof, these Commissioners list other grievances. Clearfield County Commissioner Dave Glass saying: “First of all, the map is not intuitive. When you look at it, it’s not obvious right away how to proceed.” Then, there’s the time frame to submit corrections to the FCC. Glass adding: “They’ve given the public a very short window until January 13th to file any challenges.” While the FCC published the map in November — Commissioners Glass and Sobel tell us they became aware of this only within the past week.
Centre County Commissioner Mike Pipe saying: “Broadband still has a way to go.”
Commissioner Pipe hitting on the struggles rural communities and families face. Pipe adding: “We have many parts of Pennsylvania that are not connected and are still relying on taking, you know, families are needing to take their kids to a fast-food restaurant parking lot so they can connect to Wi-Fi. Broadband should be as basic now as electricity, water, sewer.”
The FCC did not return our immediate request for comment. For information on how to look at the map and submit a correction, click here.