A new report from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania says that in every county in Pennsylvania, half the population doesn’t have access to internet service that meets federal standards.
Not surprisingly, internet speeds were found to be slower in rural areas than in urban regions.
However, here’s a finding that was somewhat surprising: The study found that the gap had widened between the speeds internet service providers claimed was being delivered and what consumers were experiencing in rural areas.
A Penn State research team gathered more than 11 million “speed tests” across the state in 2018 in producing its report, “Broadband Availability and Access in Rural Pennsylvania.”
“The numbers are not good for Pennsylvania,” said state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, who is chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.
“We have a lot of work to do and it’s going to cost a lot of money.”
Inadequate broadband access can be detrimental to students, farmers and business owners, Yaw said.
“We know that topography, infrastructure access, population density and even consumer ability to pay all contribute to the current situation,” he said.
Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a bond that would fund internet upgrades.
The governor wants to repay the debt by implementing a tax on natural gas drilling through his “Restore Pennsylvania” initiative – which was also his plan to address issues such as flood recovery and blight.
We have supported a tax on gas drilling, but don’t see that as the answer to all of Pennsylvania’s problems.
Wolf, Yaw and others in Harrisburg will need to develop a dependable revenue stream to elevate broadband access – perhaps starting with fees or fines that would serve to compel internet service providers to make sure that the broadband speed delivered matches what they claim to be providing, and for which customers are billed.
Regardless, the Legislature – including our local lawmakers – should make elevating broadband coverage in the state’s rural regions a priority.