OP-ED: Broadband expansion: Can't afford to wait
Imagine the following scenarios:
A sixth grader, who is trying to finish an online project, can only complete this assignment while sitting in her parent’s car in the parking lot of her school.
A physician, whose patient lives more than an hour away, wants to utilize remote patient monitoring technology, but is unable to do so.
A large employer is considering relocating to Pennsylvania, bringing with it the potential of hundreds of jobs and community investment, but has decided against it.
What’s the common denominator in each of these scenarios? Unreliable broadband internet service.
For the past three years, I have been pushing for all Pennsylvanians — rural, urban and suburban — to have access to reliable, affordable broadband access, regardless of the county in which they reside. In particular, the more rural and densely populated areas of our state have been most affected by this lack of access.
In June, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania announced the results of a year-long study on broadband in Pennsylvania. This study found there isn’t a single county in the state where at least 50 percent of the population received broadband connectivity, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission.
The research team collected more than 11 million broadband speed tests statewide and found that connectivity speeds were substantially slower in rural counties than in urban ones. In addition, the study also noted a significant discrepancy between what internet service providers, or ISPs, are reporting regarding broadband availability, and the speed test results collected through the center’s research.
Sadly, these results didn’t surprise me, but today, I still find it enormously frustrating.
Despite the passage of measures back in 1993 and 2004 to ensure all areas of our state have access to a modern broadband telecommunications network by 2015, we have failed to act.
This lack of access for unserved and under-served areas of Pennsylvania means:
Students can’t complete assignments at home.
People can’t take online classes.
Companies are less likely to locate in these areas, due to lack of reliable access.
Telemedicine can’t be utilized.
Our agriculture sector can’t compete.
One of my bills, HB 305, would direct the state to take inventory of communications assets — with the goal of providing broadband access. That bill, which is under consideration in the Senate State Government Committee, would mandate the state Department of General Services conduct a thorough inventory of all state department, agency, commission or institution-owned communication towers, poles, bridges and facilities to leverage existing assets to provide access to areas without broadband service.
Two other measures are also being considered — one would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct an audit on the compliance of telecommunications carriers with high-speed broadband universal service deployment mandates. This committee would be responsible for determining whether these carriers have fulfilled their commitments to provide broadband availability to everyone in their distribution networks as of Dec. 31, 2015, as required by Act 67 of 1993 and Act 183 of 2004. An additional measure would establish a bipartisan, bicameral commission to provide recommendations to deploy broadband services.
If Pennsylvania is going to truly hold its own in attracting businesses and investments in the commonwealth, effectively teach our students, and provide cutting-edge medicine, it is vital that we be truly connected — not just certain areas of our state, but all Pennsylvanians.
— State Rep. Pam Snyder is serving her fourth term representing the 50th state House District, which includes Greene, Fayette and Washington counties.