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Opinion: Broad Reform Needed for Pennsylvania Broadband Plan

Pennsylvania's share of BEAD funding is $1.16 billion, and work so far demonstrates that the universal broadband project must be accompanied by a key reform at the federal level.

A large roll of orange broadband cable sitting in a rural field.
(TNS) — The COVID-19 pandemic created a new classification for "haves" and "have-nots" regarding economic and educational opportunities, access to medical care and more — those who have broadband internet access and those who don't.

As schools went online and offices turned to work-at-home schedules, the lack of broadband in many communities posed a major burden. Parents sometimes had to drive their children to shopping malls or other areas where their computers could work off Wi-Fi.

Now, the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program has begun to distribute money to help states establish universal broadband access. In the modern economy, that access is every bit as crucial as access to railroads, electricity and highways was in earlier eras.

Pennsylvania's share of BEAD funding is $1.16 billion, which will be allocated by the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. Its work so far demonstrates that the universal broadband project must be accompanied by a key reform at the federal level.

The lack of broadband access is far more extensive than the Federal Communications Commission had believed, because the agency had allowed internet service providers to self-report the upload and download speeds of their service. The FCC had considered Pennsylvania to be well-served based on ISP reports, for example, until Penn State researchers tested actual download speeds for 15 million computers in 2019 and found that none of the state's 67 counties had more than 50% true broadband penetration.

The new state authority has determined that more than 50,000 spots in Pennsylvania lack broadband access that were not included in the FCC's maps identifying areas without broadband. So far, according to the authority, the FCC has accepted more than 28,000 of its challenges to the maps, thus ensuring that those areas will get broadband in the impending rollout.

Armed with is own accurate information, the state authority will develop a five-year plan to deploy broadband across the state.

Meanwhile, the FCC should ensure that its own data on broadband access and reliability comes from independent sources rather than from internet service providers with a self-interest in showing compliance with federal standards.

© 2023 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.