Numerous addresses in southern and eastern Lancaster County lack broadband access, according to the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority.
Moreover, most census tracts in those areas score high on the “Digital Divide Index,” a measure developed by Purdue University that combines infrastructure and socioeconomic factors. The higher the index, the greater the likelihood an area faces barriers to Internet adoption and usage.
Those factors suggest that southern and eastern Lancaster County will be high priorities as the state rolls out its 5-Year Action Plan to expand broadband access.
Earlier this month, the Broadband Development Authority approved the plan — a key step in unlocking $1.16 billion in federal money.
The funds come from the federal Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment program, or BEAD, created by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. Another $900 billion is expected from other federal sources, for a total of more than $2 billion.
Pennsylvania expects to start disbursing the money in 2024.
“Everyone in the Commonwealth should have access to affordable high-speed internet,” Brandon Carson, executive director of the Broadband Development Authority, said in a statement. But many don’t: According to the authority, more than 276,000 households in Pennsylvania lack internet access, and the service provided to another 52,000 is unreliable.
The 5-year plan calls for encouraging private broadband investment and for localities to form public-private partnerships. It notes the need for a major surge in workforce development: An estimated 116,800 workers will be needed over the plan’s five years to build out the networks it envisions.
Spotlight PA highlights four other potential obstacles, besides workforce bottlenecks, to the state accomplishing its goal:
- Supply chain issues: Factors include the lingering effects of the pandemic, Buy-American requirements and the demand of the other 49 states doing the same build-out;
- Permitting: Permits are issued at the local level, which means providers will be navigating the rules of 2,600+ municipalities;
- Service cost: Many households don’t subscribe to broadband, not because it isnt available but because the price is too high;
- Limited competition: In large areas of the state, there is only one incumbent provider;
Last year, the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County released its own analysis of Lancaster County’s broadband service gaps. It recommended the county develop a unified broadband strategy around fiber-optic cable, considered the most “future-proof” option.
Ezra Rothman, the EDC’s director of strategic initiatives and partnerships, said he’s glad the state’s 5-year plan takes a comprehensive approach and focuses on equity issues, including digital literacy and affordability programs.
“I think we will have an opportunity to focus on those in the community while the ISPs (internet service providers) seek support to build out their networks,” he said.