Pennsylvania is busy making plans to roll out its newly-won $369 million Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction grant, according to the York Daily Record. The money was awarded to 13 companies in the Commonwealth to support rural broadband expansion efforts to help 327,000 residents in nearly 185,000 unserved homes and businesses over the next decade.
According to a study conducted at Penn State’s X-Lab, 54 percent of urban Pennsylvania residents have a cable internet connection compared to just 34 percent of rural residents. The study also found that 17 percent of urban residents have a fiber-optic connection, while only 2.6 percent of rural residents have the same access.
According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the funds are “great news for the residents of so many rural Pennsylvania communities, who will get access to high-quality broadband service in areas that for too long have been on the wrong side of the digital divide.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf added that the project funding is “vital” to help close the digital divide and help residents navigate the pandemic, including telemedicine and virtual learning. “In the 21st century, reliable high-speed internet service is a critical utility for homes and businesses alike. The lack of this technology in our communities inhibits our students and educators, businesses, the healthcare system, and more from truly connecting locally and globally,” Wolf said.
The funds from the RDOF will go towards two projects in Lehigh County estimated at $340,000 and impacting 138 homes and businesses. Another $22.8 million hopes to upgrade connectivity for 6,500 locations in Bradford County.
Additional legislative actions in the state will continue the push for rural broadband expansion, including House Bill 2438, signed by Gov. Wolf, which would allow electric cooperatives to use existing poles for fiber-optic lines. In November, the Record reported that Wolf signed Senate Bill 835, which creates a broadband accessibility funding program for projects requiring at least 25 percent of private investment.
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