Pushing for broadband expansion for my constituents in Centre County is not something new to me. When I first began to serve in 2006, I realized our state had a serious problem regarding reliable, high-speed, and affordable internet. This last year made the cost of these disparities painfully clear. Thankfully, President Biden has shown that tackling Pennsylvania’s “digital divide” and bringing affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every Pennsylvanian in every county is a top priority for his administration.
This is about more than just internet access. This is about grade school children falling behind in school, working folks fresh out of college who need to leave their hometown behind to find jobs, and elderly Pennsylvanians who can’t access telehealth for medical care. The coronavirus pandemic showed just how vulnerable we are, especially here in Centre County.
Reliable broadband access will help our local economies thrive here in Pennsylvania. Studies show that lack of reliable internet damages our economic growth. Our low broadband ranking means companies will be less likely to relocate to our region to establish their business. You cannot compete in school or establish a business if you cannot connect to the internet at a rapid speed. It is that simple.
The pandemic drove most of us to use Zoom or other online tools for remote learning and working — but our neighbors without good internet access were left behind by unreliable service and spotty connections. Sadly, this was common throughout our region and all of Pennsylvania.
In 2019 The Center for Rural Pennsylvania collected more than 11 million broadband speed tests from across Pennsylvania and found that speeds in most areas of the state did not even qualify as a broadband connection. A Penn State study found that there is a “staggering” discrepancy in Pennsylvania between rural broadband coverage and the rest of the state. Centre County’s median internet speed does not even meet the federal definition of broadband. This means our connections in Centre County are too slow to even meet the lowest threshold for broadband consideration.
We can’t allow this to continue. Access to affordable, high-speed internet is a necessity for the survival of our businesses and students in Pennsylvania. It is not only a problem in Centre County: 640,000 Pennsylvanians live in areas without any broadband providers. Forty-four percent of Pennsylvanians only have one provider. This is a pressing issue for all of Pennsylvania and we can’t ignore it any longer. Thankfully, President Biden has a plan.
President Biden’s efforts — through the bipartisan infrastructure deal he’s brokered and his American Jobs Plan — will energize Pennsylvania and bring broadband coverage to every corner of our state. You read that right: 100% of Pennsylvania will have high speed broadband. There will be no more bad connections or slow service that keeps our businesses from working online — and Biden’s plan will make sure our networks are always up-to-date. This strategy also prioritizes broadband networks operated by local governments, non-profits, and co-ops— who will work for our communities instead of shareholders and the bottom line.
It is past time that we allow our businesses, students and health care workers to have a fighting chance in Pennsylvania. Congress must pass this bipartisan infrastructure plan and the rest of the Biden Agenda for broadband. Our future in the commonwealth depends on it.
Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, is the Pennsylvania House Representative for the 77th district.