FCC awards $18.8M to improve broadband service in the county

The first round of a national Federal Communications Commission program designed to improve broadband internet for rural residents will bring over $368 million to Pennsylvania for an estimated 327,000 people.

The monies are part of Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a Federal Communications Commission program designed to improve rural internet access.

Of the $368 million allocated, three companies operating in Susquehanna County will see a total of $18.8 million to improve services to over 5,000 households.

The $18.8 million will be divided as follows: Frontier Communications Corporation, receiving $5,146,251 for 1,982 households; Co-op Connections Consortium, $13,593,349 for 3,655 households; and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., $84,771 for 65 households.

According to the BroadbandNow website, which helps consumers find and compare Internet service providers, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a Federal Communications Commission program designed to close the digital divide in the United States by investing billions of dollars in the construction of rural broadband networks.  The program is expected to expand rural broadband access to 10 million Americans.

The $20.4 billion program will distribute funds nationally for a 10-year period to winning providers after the auction process is complete. The program is split into two phases, the first which will initially distribute $16 billion and the second which will distribute $4.4 billion as well as any other remaining funds.

According to the Public Utility Commission only a handful of states received more broadband support than Pennsylvania. Overall the federal program is intended to expand broadband service to over 10 million rural Americans.

“Access to broadband, especially for those who tele-work, senior citizens, fire and emergency workers and students who are taking classes remotely has become even more crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23) said.  “This funding will benefit thousands of my constituents who currently lack internet service,” Yaw said in a prepared statement released earlier this month.

Susquehanna County Commissioner Judy Herschel, a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Rural Affairs, welcomed the receipt of the funds in an emailed statement but encouraged additional continued action on the state level.

“The importance of investing in technological infrastructure in rural areas across our country has never been more evident than now,” Herschel said.  “In Susquehanna County, the lack of necessary high-speed internet throughout all corners of our county has had a direct negative effect on our education, healthcare, and economic systems.  The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction is a step in the right direction, however continued future Federal and State funding, along with a State Broadband Plan, is necessary for us to get the job done.”

“I would like to see all elected officials, particularly our State and Federal Legislators, continue to be vocal, prioritize and advocate for this on behalf of Susquehanna County residents on this issue.  Our children, business owners and community members deserve it,” Herschel said.

In an emailed release issued late last week, Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110), echoed the remarks of both Yaw and Herschel.

“The slow pace of broadband expansion in our region has been a major frustration of mine for many years,” Pickett said.  “With more people working and learning from home these days, reliable internet access is needed now more than ever. The General Assembly recently enacted several new laws relating to broadband expansion. Those measures, along with this federal funding, should lead to improved broadband access locally and across the Commonwealth, sooner rather than later.”

Last month the Center for Rural Pennsylvania released a report indicating that a survey of 1,446 rural and urban households indicated that over 18 per cent of rural households used either dial up or DSL service as compared to just over 6 percent of urban households.  By contrast, 54 percent of urban households enjoyed cable internet access compared to only 34 percent of rural homes.

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