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Officials Work to Get Internet to Rural Pennsylvania

Greene County, Pa., commissioners and other elected officials unveiled a $5.2 million project that will bring high-speed Internet connections to an isolated area with spotty service, where there isn’t service at all.

rural internet
(TNS) — In an unheated community building here on Deep Valley Road, a remote pocket of Pennsylvania took a step into the internet age Tuesday.

Greene County commissioners and other elected officials unveiled a $5.2 million project at the Springhill Community Center that will bring high-speed internet connections to an isolated area with spotty service, where there is service at all. Privately held communications and software company Kinetic by Windstream, of Lexington, Ky., is partnering on the project by contributing about $2.7 million to the total to reach nearly 800 homes with fiber optic cable.

One of those homes is occupied by Franck Carrico, 72, who said he orders medicines online from California. But internet service near the West Virginia border where he lives is poor.

"You can't upload; you can't download and we have no cell phone," said Mr. Carrico, who is 72 years old.

The Greene County initiative is the latest example of rural governments cobbling together grant money to expand speedy access to the internet. Similar efforts are underway in other areas, including Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

With a declining population of about 40,000, Greene County is 90% rural, according to the county. Part or all of six townships along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia state line will get speedy broadband by June 2024 when the project finishes.

A grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission is funding the Greene County work, but a far bigger source of money for internet expansion has yet to be distributed by the state.

Pennsylvania was awarded $1.16 billion from the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program — part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 — to expand internet access throughout the state. The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority was expected to distribute most of the funds by next year based on county applications.

Expanding broadband to rural areas is a matter of "equality of access" to the rich resources of the internet, said Eric Gaydos, academic director at West Greene School District, which has 680 students in K-12.

"From New York City to New Freeport, they must have that access," Mr. Gaydos told a few dozen residents who attended the meeting. "This is exactly the thing that will make Greene County a more attractive place to live."

Getting the West Greene campus online was possible by stringing a fiber optic cable from Waynesburg, 17 miles away, he said. Nevertheless, portable hotspots distributed to students for class assignments during the COVID-19 closures were little good because cell access is so poor in the county.

Parents were forced to park on school property or at fast-food restaurants so their children could log on for class assignments, Mr. Gaydos said.

Greene County's efforts to expand broadband began in 2020, Commissioner Mike Belding said. Recently, the county used a $1 million CSX Community Service grant and $2.7 million in Cares Act funding to extend service.

"At the end of the day, we want 100% coverage," Mr. Belding said. "That's all we're going to settle for."

© 2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.