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Please Wait While We Connect You: Rural Broadband Access an Issue in Pa. Capitol

Published by The Philadelphia Inquirer on August 12, 2019

By Sash Hupka

DOVER, Pa. — Nearly every night, as Ray Van de Castle locks up the Dover Area Community Library in York County, he notices people in parked cars with their eyes glued to gently glowing screens.

The people camped out in the parking lot do not have good internet access at their homes and come to the library to take advantage of its free WiFi, which Van de Castle, the library’s director, said is always switched on.

“There’s pockets up here that don’t even have dial-up,” he said.

Van de Castle’s community is similar to many others across Pennsylvania — rural, blue-collar areas struggling with a lack of broadband connectivity amid a nationwide technological boom.

Now, tackling the disparity in internet access, which impacts everything from schools to local businesses, has become a rallying cry in Harrisburg. Over the last six months, Gov. Tom Wolf has crisscrossed the state highlighting the issue. And although he and lawmakers have yet to settle on a fix, they agree it should be a priority.

“When we look at broadband, what we fail to do sometimes is peel back the layers and see how this is impacting families and educators and real-life people,” said Sheri Collins, director of the Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives. “The broadband issue in Pennsylvania is extremely complicated and extremely expensive, but we have got to take a leadership position and solve these issues.”

An estimated 800,000 Pennsylvanians — 6% of the state’s population — do not have high-speed access to the internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which defines connectivity as having minimum download speeds of 25 megabits per second of data, the requirement for watching a Netflix video in ultra high-definition.

But the number of people without broadband could be higher, according to a study last year by researchers from Pennsylvania State University. It found no county in which 50% or more of residents consistently received adequate download speeds.

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