York County releases survey to learn more about residents' broadband needs

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
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

York County residents are being encouraged to take a new survey to gauge their broadband needs and pinpoint local areas with unreliable or nonexistent broadband access.

The survey comes after the state Senate on Tuesday cleared two bills sponsored by state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, related to broadband access. The bills look to do away with outdated regulations and ensure broadband expansion is properly funded.

The survey, released Friday, is being conducted by the county, the York County Economic Alliance and the YoCo Fiber Broadband Task Force. It asks about internet speeds, access and costs.

"We're looking to beef up the current data we receive from the (Federal Communications Commission)," said David Gonzalez, YCEA's advocacy manager.

The county and its partners are looking for additional data because FCC data on topics such as internet speed seem to at times be exaggerated compared with what residents report, Gonzalez said.

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

In addition to helping county residents in general, the survey organizers say specific areas in which they hope to expand broadband access include businesses, schools, medical facilities and nonprofits.

The survey can be accessed at https://www.yceapa.org/fiber/. The survey is expected to be open for three to four months.

Phillips-Hill has said her bills, which were passed on Tuesday along party lines, would make it easier for counties such as York to expand broadband access.

State Sen. Kristen Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for YMCA of York and York County's Urban Park in York City, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The first bill would waive a variety of regulations in the Public Utility Code, including lengthy reporting requirements that she says drain companies' resources with administrative costs associated with meeting the regulations.

In addition, it would require the state Public Utility Commission to review regulations every three years and eliminate regulations it deems no longer necessary.

"Many of the regulations that exist in our Public Utility Code have been in place for decades," Phillips-Hill said. "However, we have seen sweeping changes to the technology and communications landscape."

The second bill would create a restricted account for funds meant solely to expand broadband in underserved areas.

Currently, the state has a 20-year contract with Ohio-based Agile Network Builders to lease out excess wireless capacity from state-owned towers and other infrastructure. Any revenue generated from leases is put into the state's general fund.

The bill would also require state agencies to conduct an inventory of all state-owned communication towers, utility poles and buildings to better track what areas are underserved and require further investment.

The two bills still require approval in the state House. They currently sit in the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

Even though broadband access has been noted as a statewide issue, York County has recently reached a milestone.

In May, the county celebrated the completion of a 16-mile fiber optic broadband project along the Heritage Rail Trail.

The project was made possible with $1.5 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.