Broadband expansion is vital, and we must move forward

Pushing for broadband expansion for all Pennsylvanians is not something new for me – several years ago, I realized our state had a serious problem regarding reliable, affordable access and I began to further investigate why, as a state, we had fallen so behind. Since the pandemic, access and connectivity issues have only exacerbated.

The work to make this happen certainly isn’t without its challenges, as significant infrastructure and investments are needed. I remain undeterred in my efforts to ensure each one of us is connected – not just in certain parts of our great state.

Recently, the House Democratic Policy Committee held hearings to discuss how we can better connect our communities and effectively bridge this digital divide. It’s imperative that we do everything possible to solve connectivity issues for our school students, who are unable to complete virtual assignments from home, and our college students, who can’t access online classes. We also know that this lack of reliable access can – and has -- adversely impacted our economic growth. Companies are less likely to consider locating or relocating to Pennsylvania. Telemedicine has been vital during the past year to help physicians monitor and provide care to their patients. Sadly, in many parts of Pennsylvania, the broadband connectivity that makes this possible is the exception rather than the norm. With more of us working and learning from home than ever before, we must do more to connect everyone.

I’ve introduced a bill to establish a broadband authority to oversee and support the deployment of broadband services statewide. This authority would identify and provide the funds needed to ensure reliable access. In addition, a separate measure I’ve authored would allow municipalities to offer broadband and allow an electric utility or other electric supplier to install and maintain the infrastructure to support broadband access. It would also increase broadband speeds to meet Federal Communications Commission minimum standards.

Despite the passage of measures back in 1993 and 2004 to ensure all regions of our state have access to a modern broadband telecommunications network by 2015, it’s clear we have failed to act. We are doing our residents a disservice if we allow this inaction to continue.

As I’ve said numerous times, you cannot compete if you cannot connect. If we are to be successful in helping our students, attracting businesses, and providing cutting-edge medicine, we need to be truly connected, regardless of where we live. We must put partisanship aside and work together to make this happen. Pennsylvanians deserve no less.