Newly Signed Law Looks to ‘Wire’ Underserved Areas of PA

By Ashley Adams

December 2, 2020

Newly signed legislation helps fund entities with the ability to build and operate high-speed internet networks to rural communities.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf has signed legislation that establishes a $5 million grant program to help non-governmental entities build and operate high-speed broadband internet service in underserved areas of the state.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has shown how crucial broadband internet access is, Wolf said earlier this year.

Introduced by Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Cambria County, the Underserved High-Speed Broadband Funding program requires projects seeking funding to have at least 25% private investment. 

“Broadband internet access is proving indispensable now, more than ever, for day-to-day activities,” Langerholc said in a news release. “When provided access to affordable high-speed broadband, rural businesses can expand their markets, residents have greater direct access to education and healthcare and farmers can gain real-time access to important information they need to be successful.”

It appropriates $5 million from the General Fund to finance the grant program by converting and eliminating a rarely used tax credit, the Mobile Telecommunications Broadband Investment Tax Credit.

The tax credit was available to mobile telecommunication providers to encourage them to invest in broadband equipment in Pennsylvania and was limited to $5 million annually. In the past five years, $12.2 million in tax credits was awarded to three firms.

The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as a 25 Mbps  download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed. 

 Approximately 800,000 Pennsylvanians lack access to a reliable network, according to a report issued last year by The Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

Expanding broadband is part of Wolf’s Restore PA Initiative. Last month, he signed legislation that allows electric companies to use existing utility poles for fiber-optic lines to carry broadband. 

Other bills, such as Senate Bill 1118, which would expand broadband access with existing infrastructure, and House Bill 2055, allowing municipal authorities to build their own broadband networks, never made it out of the legislature. HB 2055 was introduced in the House in November 2019, where it stalled in the Local Government Committee due to lack of discussion and action. SB 1118 was tabled by the Senate last month. Since the recent legislative session ended Nov. 30, both bills are moot.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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