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Op-Ed: Let’s work together to connect all Pennsylvanians

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In a world increasingly driven by digital connectivity, access to the internet is no longer a luxury – it is a fundamental necessity that allows Pennsylvanians to communicate, learn, work, socialize, and access essential services. The COVID-19 pandemic only magnified the challenges faced by those in our state who still lack access to high-speed internet.

Thanks to $1.16 billion in federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment funds, Pennsylvania has a once-in-a-generational opportunity to bridge the digital divide by deploying broadband to unserved and underserved areas. From across the Northern Tier, to the Poconos, across the southwest counties, and in the corners of our commonwealth, our goal is to help ensure that everyone who wants to be connected can.

We are grateful that Pennsylvania will receive more than a billion dollars. However, we also know that amount will go quickly based on current parameters. Having the money at hand is a tremendous first step, but other steps must be taken in order to serve as many locations as possible. Writing a check doesn’t automatically lead to laying fiber to the home.

Several obstacles still stand in the way for successful deployment, namely in terms of time and money. We have great concern that state guidelines for the grant money using prevailing wage rates could deter qualified internet service providers from even applying for the funds.

We do not oppose the use of prevailing wage, as it has an important role to play in our economy, but we believe the wage rates should be appropriate to the work being done, and not being applied through a broad, catch-all classification. Doing so may very well increase project costs by upward of 30%, meaning that nearly one-third of eligible projects won’t be funded. Those additional costs do not even include the possibility that providers may just seek to apply for funding for projects in neighboring states.

But all is not lost, and there is something that can be done. We must now work together to ensure these critical broadband investments are put to their best use so that no community is left behind.

We impress upon the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, the state agency that will ultimately decide grant recipients, along with state leaders, and policymakers that every efficiency must be found and implemented to ensure every dollar is used to its maximum benefit.

In doing so, we implore them to revisit and revise wage classifications, pass permitting reform both in the public and private sectors, and assist communities in getting ready for broadband. We must leave no stone unturned as we seek to close the digital divide, but we need their help.

Pennsylvania’s broadband communications industry has the proven track record of success, technical expertise, and experience to connect every community to digital opportunity, and remains committed to getting the job done. Let’s make sure we have the best tools at our disposal so that every who wants to be connected can.

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