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United Way of Lancaster County


Pa. authority finalizes guidelines for distributing $200 million in broadband grants

(Source: Pa. Broadband Development Authority)

Starting next month, communities and organizations across the commonwealth will be able to apply for shares of $200 million in federal funding being made available through Pennsylvania Broadband Infrastructure Program.

The grants are coming via the state’s Broadband Development Authority. The authority released a universal broadband strategy last year and has been working on its grant guidelines.

Those have now been finalized, Executive Director Brandon Carson announced Wednesday. They will be posted on the authority’s website on Monday.

The application period will open Wednesday, May 10, Carson said, and remain open through Saturday, June 10. The authority said it expects to award grants by the end of 2023, with amounts ranging from $500,000 up to $10 million.

Among the grant requirements:

  • Universal coverage: Applicants must ensure that projects contribute toward achieving 100% broadband coverage for their locality
  • Affordability: Applicants must participate in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and demonstrate that low- and moderage-income households will have “sustained and affordable access.”
  • 25% local match: Applicants may put other federal, state or local funding, such as American Rescue Plan Act funds, toward the match requirements.

The authority noted that Pennsylvania’s Prevailing Wage Act generally applies to projects costing more than $25,000 that receive state support.

Projects must achieve “substantial completion” by the end of 2026, meaning they must be up and running and serving end users, the authority said.

Local initiatives

The pandemic highlighted the importance of broadband, as households shifted to remote work and remote schooling. Families without the service resorted to seeking signals on their porches or outside public libraries.

This week, Mayor Danene Sorace unveiled a planned partnership with Shentel to revive Lancaster’s municipal broadband initiative. It would incorporate the state authority’s requirements for universal coverage and an ACP option.

Click to enlarge. (Source: EDC of Lancaster County)

At the county level, the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County has been calling for a comprehensive strategy that would allow the county to leverage the potential grant funding and bring 21st century broadband to underserved areas. A study the EDC commissioned found thousands of addresses without broadband access, and stakeholders in business, health care and education all highlighted broadband as a critical priority.

County leaders have been cool to the idea of taking the lead. Last spring, Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said the private sector, not county government, should drive any broadband strategy or rollout. A couple of weeks later, EDC President Lisa Riggs asked the county to reserve $10 million in ARPA funding toward an eventual broadband initiative; the request was rebuffed.

D’Agostino said at the time that the county would allocate its ARPA money gradually, leaving funds available the first round for one or more follow-up rounds. About $43 million of county ARPA currently remains available as of early April.