Expanding digital connection key for PA development, advancement

HARRISBURG, April 1 -- State Representative Rob Matzie, Democratic Chairman of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, led yesterday’s House Democratic Policy Committee on bridging the digital divide.

The hearing is the third in a series this week focused on net neutrality and bridging the gap to improve future outcomes for educators, students, health care access and Pennsylvania businesses.

“This hearing was a great cap on the weeks’ discussions on how we can make sure Pennsylvania is digitally connected. The last year has shown us that reliable internet, computers and phone help keep us learning, working, entertained, managing health and in touch with family and friends. I thank Chairman Matzie for leading the discussion and look forward to a public-private partnership that helps close the divide,” said Ryan Bizzarro, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee.

“Quick, reliable Internet access isn’t a luxury in today’s world – it’s a necessity,” said Matzie. “Those without it face major disadvantages when it comes to competing for jobs, accessing health and education services and connecting to state programs. I’m hosting this hearing because we need to develop solutions to bridge this digital divide now, before it threatens to disenfranchise more Pennsylvanians.”

The committee heard testimony from Brian Barno, Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania; Joseph Glinka, government affairs director with Gateway Health; David Kerr, president of external affairs at AT&T; and Erica Swanson, head of community engagement at Grow with Google.

Barno shared that connections can help improve quality of life and are oftentimes a pathway out of poverty, allowing individuals to no longer need the safety net of public services and live with dignity. Ultimately, these individuals who receive the full benefit of connectivity are able to achieve productivity and participate and contribute to a more robust Pennsylvania economy.

Glinka explained that while Gateway is happy to connect people to resources, they are thrilled when clients’ lives are improved to the point that they no longer have to rely on them for services. Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet has been described as a super-determinant of health by public health experts and is an integral part of the work they do.

AT&T President David Kerr shared that current expansions have been a result of private investment to expand networks and have not included taxpayer funded efforts.

Google’s Erica Swanson’s testimony focused on the digital skills needed for businesses and job seekers to find success including sharing many free resources Google offers. Over 6 million Americans have been trained in digital skills through free Grow with Google Workshops since 2017.

The full hearing video and testimony are available at www.pahouse.com/policycommittee.