Pennsylvania Releases Broadband Plan, Outlining Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability
In order to compete in a dynamic global economy and expand opportunity to all Pennsylvania businesses and residents, the PA Chamber is advocating for a modern and efficient system of infrastructure, especially when it comes to broadband. In the 2021-22 legislative session that recently concluded, the PA Chamber supported Act 96 of 2021, which established the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, a bipartisan commission to plan and implement federal broadband funding. Recently, the Authority sent the legislature its goals and strategies to improve access to high-speed internet in the state. The plan came just a day before the Federal Communications Commission released its initial round of updated maps, which, when finalized, will inform how much each state receives in supplemental broadband funding from the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The PA Chamber’s Kevin Sunday is co-chairing the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority’s outreach and education subcommittee, along with leaders in local government, building trades, academia and business. The PA Chamber welcomes the input of its members as the Authority’s work on expanding access to broadband unfolds throughout 2023 and beyond.
Goals of the state’s plan include ensuring there is accurate and updated data on what areas of the state are unserved and underserved, as well as promoting affordability for access, including for devices and monthly plans through providers.
There are several allotments of money that the Authority will administer or leverage. The Authority is currently promoting the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is being administered by the FCC and provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
Pennsylvania is also expected to soon receive $278 million, its share of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund through U.S. Treasury, which was allocated by the 2021 American Rescue Plan. The state is authorized to use this money on capital projects that enable remote work and access to health and education. The Authority filed its plan to the U.S. Treasury in the fall, with the focus on expanding infrastructure to last-mile extensions for unserved areas ($200 million) and anchor institutions like libraries and community centers ($45 million); and to increase device access for underserved populations ($20 million). Importantly, the U.S. Treasury’s program does not include Buy American and prevailing wage requirements that the IIJA’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program will. Pending finalization of program guidelines, the Authority expects to begin accepting applications for the infrastructure programs through these funds in the first quarter of 2023, and for the device access program in the fourth quarter of 2023.
Finally, regarding the FCC maps, states and interested parties will have until Jan. 13, 2023 to challenge FCC’s maps through a public comment period. FCC will work with Pennsylvania will receive at minimum $100 million through the IIJA’s BEAD program and will receive additional funding based on how much of its population is lacking access to high-speed broadband. Final determinations on state allocations will be announced in the summer of 2023.