Digital Equity Can Drive Small Business Growth

By Kevin Sunday, Director of Government Affairs

High-speed internet access is characterized by a stark gap between rural and urban areas. More than 500,000 residents are without broadband access in Pennsylvania, most of them in the state’s rural pockets such as Potter, McKean, and Bradford counties.

Expanding broadband access to these rural areas is critical for many reasons, including economic growth. Small businesses rely on an online presence, social media, and email marketing to promote their businesses and conduct online sales.  As many of these smaller hubs of innovation and job creation have struggled to get high-speed internet access, the introduction of broadband internet in these areas of the state will be a significant boon.

But it’s more than just an investment in the business community. Reliable broadband will create communities where people can live, work, and visit. Advances in telecommunications and broadband infrastructure can also improve public safety and create more responsive real-time adjustments to electric, water, and natural gas utility system operations. Mobile data traffic has also increased, and robust infrastructure is needed to support this demand.

But if the pandemic has taught us anything, broadband is a necessity. Over these last two tumultuous years, broadband kept students connected to their classrooms and online learning. Broadband kept businesses open and commerce flowing. And, broadband allowed people to use telehealth services when they couldn’t get to a doctor in person. Communities without that access were at a distinct disadvantage.

That’s why the PA Chamber was proud to support H.B. 2071, which created the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, responsible for all public and private efforts to expand internet access in Pennsylvania. It will oversee $100 million in federal funding to improve high-speed internet access and create a statewide plan to expand access and digital literacy over the next year.

The 11-member Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority board includes the secretaries of the Pennsylvania Departments of Agriculture, Community and Economic Development, Education, General Services, and the Budget; the executive director for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania; chairperson from the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission; and four legislative members. They will be responsible for setting the roadmap for digital equity.

The importance of a reliable internet connection for small businesses cannot be understated. Businesses in rural areas of the state should have the same reliable connection as businesses in more metropolitan areas, and we look forward to getting the business community connected.

Have questions about broadband? Email Kevin Sunday or find out more on this topic.