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Pennsylvania County Focuses Broadband Grant Shortlist

Centre County Commissioners have voted to advance broadband expansion project proposals from two Internet service providers. The county will apply for part of $200 million in state funding for the final proposals.

(TNS) — Centre County is advancing broadband expansion project proposals from two providers to be submitted for state funding.

The Centre County Commissioners approved advancing broadband expansion projects from Centre WISP Venture and Comcast Communications for continued scope-of-work and pre-application negotiations for ARPA Capital Project Funds/Broadband Infrastructure Program submissions during their meeting Tuesday.

In April the commissioners advertised a request for project proposals from Internet providers to develop a plan for expansion of high-speed broadband to include un- and underserved prioritized communities within Centre County. They received five proposals last month.

The proposals that were selected Tuesday met merit across several factors, including targeting the priority zones identified in the broadband strategic plan, demonstrate affordable options, have experience on past projects and offer financial viability. The overall scale and scope of the projects, and proposed cost shares for matching funds are subject to continuing negotiations, Elizabeth Lose, assistant planning director, said.

Centre WISP offered projects in Boggs Township and Penns Valley, Lose said. These areas previously had projects funded and these additional funds would help fill the gaps, she said.

Comcast's proposal looks at the Curtin/ Liberty area, as well as Rush Township. They have some projects already started there and the funds would also help complete them and expand on infrastructure that will already be in place, Lose said.

The county will apply for part of $200 million in state funding for the final proposals.

When they looked at the project proposals internally, Lose said they wanted to make sure they were targeting areas that needed high-speed Internet without a degree of overlap between them.

"That's where we want to go back with these and do some more talking and negotiations, and make sure that the final scope of these projects fits to those areas," Lose said.

Commissioner Amber Concepcion said if selected, these projects would make a difference for residents in Centre County. Commissioner Mark Higgins said these levels of service would be "game changing."

"This is for direct fiber to the homes. So this is very high speed, game changing level of service for people who either have essentially no service," Higgins said. "You'll have the same speed that researchers have at Penn State; it will be amazing. And your kids can attend school remotely if need be, while somebody else is playing online video games, while somebody else is doing a lot of research and while somebody else is watching Netflix — and you won't even notice any sort of slowdown."

The standard time frame for this type of build out is two years, Lose said. The guidelines for the funds state the companies need to have three quarters of the project completed by Dec. 31, 2026.

The Broadband Infrastructure Program has $200 million allocated to it through the state legislature. These projects would need to be selected to get funding. Higgins urged the state broadband authority to consider the county's proposals.

The county has been working on making broadband more accessible for years and has had a lot of success, Higgins said. The board applauded Lose's work on the project, which she said has probably been "the most complex project I've managed in my 20 years here at Centre County government."

Selecting the right projects and getting everything in early is a challenge, Commissioner Steve Dershem said, but Lose has been effective in figuring out the projects, and he expects Centre County will be earlier than many others.

"Hopefully this is successful because this is a really big deal," Dershem said.

©2023 the Centre Daily Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.