Legislation creating a statewide grant program to improve broadband services in rural areas of Pennsylvania to support the online workforce unanimously passes the Senate.

State legislators want to make it easier for rural Pennsylvanians to learn and work from home.

The state Senate voted unanimously last week to pass Senate Bill 962, which would create the Rural Co-Working and Innovation Centers Grant Program under the state Department of Community and Economic Development. Eligible entities in rural counties could receive grants of up to $500,000 to construct or renovate a coworking facility, improve utilities and broadband service connections, and for purchasing furniture and security systems to facilitate an online workforce.

The bill now goes to the state House for consideration.

Forty-eight of the 67 counties in the state and 1,592 municipalities are rural and would benefit from this program, according to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Currently, the state’s rural workforce is about 1.88 million people (14.4% of the population). 

“The pandemic fundamentally changed the way individuals work, with many working remotely and even continuing on a permanent basis,” said state Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Bedford), who introduced the bill. “As the way we work evolves, we must ensure that rural Pennsylvania is not left behind. Access to high-speed broadband, infrastructure and equipment is critical to today’s economy, and by enabling our rural communities access, we will help spur economic development.”

Roughly 3% of Pennsylvanians (390,081) don’t have reliable broadband internet service. The FCC says reliable internet is 25 megabits per second for downloading files and 3 megabits per second for uploading.