IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Centre County, Pa., OKs Consultant for Broadband Strategic Plan

County officials approved a $175,000 consulting contract to develop a strategic plan to expand broadband accessibility. Thousands of residents are without access to high-speed Internet service.

(TNS) — Centre County is allocating some of its American Rescue Plan Act funds toward a local health department feasibility study, as well as developing a strategic plan around broadband in the county.

In a split vote during Thursday's Centre County commissioners meeting, commissioners allocated $12,000 toward a feasibility study to determine if Centre County would benefit from its own health department.

Act 315, the state local health administration law, provides funding to improve local health administration and assist counties and municipalities in establishing health departments. Currently, there are six county and four municipal health departments funded by Act 315.

The feasibility study will be a joint effort with the State College Borough and the two entities will split the total cost of $24,000. The study is expected to take six months.

There are several components to the feasibility study, Margaret Gray, Centre County's administrator, said. It will look at the current health context, the state requirements and partnerships. It will present two different health department models and a detailed line item budget of what it would take to support a health office. Additionally, it will provide the county with potential grant sources at the local, state and federal levels.

If Centre County were to have its own health department, it could be the smallest and most rural county to do so, commissioners said.

Commissioners Michael Pipe and Mark Higgins voted for it; Commissioner Steve Dershem was opposed.

"I'm fearful of the bureaucracy that it creates, the legacy cost. ... I don't see value in it, the way I maybe perhaps should," Dershem said, noting that already existing programs and agencies do things a local health department could. But, he said he would keep an open mind throughout the process.

For the broadband measure, commissioners were unanimous in selecting CTC Technology as the county's broadband consultant for $175,000. During the summer, discussions began about hiring a consultant firm to help the county put together a strategic plan for broadband.

"We all recognize after going through COVID and remote working and remote learning, how important Internet connection has been. So I think this is a really good effort on our part to get some level of expertise in here," said Elizabeth Lose, assistant director of the county's department of planning and community development.

Higgins said there are still thousands of families in Centre County who don't have high-speed broadband. The federal government has changed the definition of broadband in recent years, so while people may think some places in the county have broadband, they don't from a technical standpoint, Pipe said.

The consultants will take an inventory of broadband in Centre County that will help the county understand what the community's needs are around broadband. They'll also create a survey that will go out to the community to gather feedback and input. Pipe said they'll then take that information and decide how to use funds and grant opportunities.

During a previous work session, Dershem compared the broadband project to the county's incentive package to American Airlines in hopes of bringing flights from Charlotte, North Carolina to State College. The goal is to incentivize companies to come to Centre County and provide the broadband services.

"I think one of the real exciting things about this is not just those rural areas, although ... that needs to be a priority ... But the other opportunity exists out there for us to get black fiber throughout the more urbanized areas," Dershem said.

¨©2021 the Centre Daily Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.