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Private Companies Work to Expand Broadband in Pennsylvania

More than 2,600 households and businesses in parts of Pennsylvania will have access to high-speed Internet after the FCC auctioned about $9.2 billion to companies with the goal of closing the rural digital divide.

A farm in rural Pennsylvania
Shutterstock/ESB Professional
(TNS) — More than 2,600 households and businesses in rural parts of Allegheny, Pa., and Westmoreland, Pa., counties soon will have access to high-speed internet after the Federal Communication Commission auctioned about $9.2 billion to companies across the country with the goal of closing the digital divide in rural America.

The first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will bring more than $368.7 million to 13 companies across Pennsylvania over 10 years to expand broadband services, amounting to almost $2,000 per household or business.

That breaks down to $687,000 for almost 900 homes and businesses in Allegheny, and more than $2 million for more than 1,700 Westmoreland homes and businesses.

"This historic auction is 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," FCC Chairman  Ajit Pai  said in a news release.

Most of the 13 companies in the state received multiple awards for different counties including Space Exploration Technologies, which was awarded one of the highest bids.

The California-based company, also known as SpaceX, is owned by billionaire  Elon Musk , who is also CEO of Tesla. The company was awarded more than $885 million to expand broadband at 642,925 locations across the country. More than $67.9 million will be used in 61 out of 67 counties across the state, including Allegheny and Westmoreland.

In Allegheny, $486,460 will be used for 747 locations, while in Westmoreland, more than $1.3 million will be used for 1,388 locations. Business Insider reported SpaceX plans to use the funds for the Starlink satellite-internet project, an initiative that involves placing 42,000 Starlink satellites into orbit with the goal of providing high-speed internet.

Other companies awarded funds in Allegheny include Armstrong Telephone Company's Northern Division, a Butler-based company that received $20,316 for 36 locations, and Windstream Services, an Arkansas-based company that was awarded $180,474 for 114 locations. Windstream was also awarded $668,076 for 326 locations in Westmoreland County.

A media representative at Windstream said they were not permitted by the FCC to speak on the amount awarded.

Armstrong Telephone Company, which has local offices scattered across the region, was awarded a total of $344,898 for 536 households and business across seven Pennsylvania counties including ButlerChesterCrawfordFayetteMercerWashington and Allegheny.

"We, like many companies, are participating in some of the different government funding options to try to expand rural broadband as quickly as possible," said  David Wittmann , vice president of cable marketing at Armstrong Telephone Company. "We were awarded a few census blocks in certain areas during the most recent process that just concluded."

Wittmann did not have further comment on the topic.

A map specifying which areas received funds can be found on the FCC's website,, and searching for rural digital opportunity fund phase I results.

The covid-19 pandemic brought the need for internet services to the forefront as students attend online classes and adults work from home. In September, Gov.  Tom Wolf  committed $15 million in federal coronavirus aid money to help schools provide internet services to students who might otherwise struggle with remote learning.

A 2019 Penn State study showed there is not a single county where at least 50% of the population received broadband connectivity, which is defined by the FCC as 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.

In Allegheny County, for example, the median broadband download speed was 20 Mbps, meaning 50% of the study respondents experienced faster speeds and 50% experienced slower speeds. In Westmoreland County, the median broadband download speed was 12.3 Mbps.

Almost all locations in Pennsylvania that were part of the first round of funds will receive access to broadband with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps. About 64% of households and businesses will receive gigabit-speed broadband.

The first phase of the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund originally allocated $16 billion for companies across the country. The remaining $6.8 billion will be rolled over into the phase two auction, which brings the total budget to $11.2 billion.

An additional $9 billion will be distributed over the next decade, with the goal of bringing 5G wireless broadband connectivity to underserved areas of rural America.

(c)2020 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.