Digital divide: York County officials say they're not done on broadband initiative

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

It was the celebration of the completion of a 16-mile fiber optic broadband project along the Heritage Rail Trail, but the York County Board of Commissioners and the York County Economic Alliance say they're not done improving internet access for the area.

The project, conceived of last year and financed with assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, placed the miles of cable along the Heritage Rail Trail and installed wireless antennas at Hanover Junction and Brillhart Station. 

Henkels & McCoy employees Jeff Conrath, left, and Scott Stuck unspool 10,000 feet of fiber optic cable during an installation along the York County Heritage Rail Trail in Codorus Township Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The York County Board of Commissioners allocated $5 million from its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to pay for the the new broadband internet infrastructure. Bill Kalina photo

"For the first time in York County, we have a holistic view of the broadband needs of the 911 square miles that we call York County," President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Friday at a news conference celebrating the completion of the project. "This milestone today is not only a first step into closing the digital divide for all residents, but it also provides all users of the Heritage Rail Trail internet access so they can navigate the towns which they will be visiting." 

More:York County's broadband strategy: If you build it, they will come

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Wheeler said that while the day was to celebrate the completion of the project, it was not where development would stop. She touted the work of the YoCo Broadband Task Force, which has created an assessment and business plan to expand broadband access into underserved parts of the county and attract private providers to invest in connecting businesses and homes.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler speaks as the County of York and York County Economic Alliance announce the completion of their fiber broadband installation project along a 16-mile stretch of the Heritage Rail Trail at Hanover Junction Station in North Codorus Township, Friday, May 14, 2021. Wireless internet towers were installed at both the Brillhart Station and Hanover Junction trailheads. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Steve D'Ettore, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, praised the work of the county and the YCEA. "Thousands of businesses will benefit," he said. "We are thrilled to celebrate your proactive efforts that resulted in an incredible accomplishment for your community." 

Lit Communications chief innovation officer John Sullivan praised the work that went into completion of the project, saying it was a group effort.

"I've worked with a lot of communities cross-country and I have to say I've never seen a community with such determination and political will as this community," he said. 

William Yanavitch II, president of the YCEA board of directors, praised the county commissioners' leadership, saying the fiber project would help businesses and residents across the trail.

"We have taken that first large step in making a significant investment that will pay dividends, but we do acknowledge that the work does not stop today," he said.

York County Economic Alliance Board Chair William Yanavitch II speaks as YCEA and the County of York announce the completion of their fiber broadband installation project along a 16-mile stretch of the Heritage Rail Trail at Hanover Junction Station in North Codorus Township, Friday, May 14, 2021. Wireless internet towers were installed at both the Brillhart Station and Hanover Junction trailheads. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Yanavitch said the project was ultimately just a part of York County's economic plan.

"All that we take for granted with internet access, we cannot stop today. This is just the first down payment," he said. "We're going to need to help our community, we're going to need to help our commonwealth, and I know that we can count on each other because we demonstrated courageous leadership over the last several months."