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Shapiro touts broadband expansion as industry worries over regulatory hurdles

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(The Center Square) — Gov. Josh Shapiro touted federal money for broadband expansion in western Pennsylvania on Friday, arguing for bipartisanship and efficient governance.

“I wanted to be here today because Beaver County’s got its act together,” Shapiro said. “Folks want people in government — regardless of what party they’re in — to find ways to work together, to come together and actually solve problems, and to get stuff done.”

Federal officials announced that the commonwealth will receive $1.16 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to build out and improve broadband infrastructure. Shapiro argued the money will do much to improve the lives of everyone across the state.

“The lack of broadband access holds us all back,” he said. “Connecting people to high-speed, affordable internet right now will help grow our economy and it will help strengthen our community.”

The money will be distributed from the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program to the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, which will provide grants to broadband companies to build.

The governor spoke of major improvements for unserved and underserved areas.

“We will be able to make meaningful progress in just the next few years,” Shapiro said. “Beaver County officials expect that with the support of this new round of federal funding they’ll be able to connect all of Beaver County to the internet at high-speed, affordable prices.”

Not everyone is so confident about the success that will follow from the money, however.

The Broadband Communications Association of Pennsylvania, a telecom trade group, has warned of the regulatory barriers that could limit the success of the expansion. BCAP has argued for permitting reform and speeding up the construction process, as The Center Square previously reported, and has warned of a lack of transparency in how the broadband authority scores applications. BCAP members also worry about prevailing wage requirements, which could drive up costs and limit how much expansion actually happens.

“This funding is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” BCAP President Todd Eachus said in a press release. “We implore (the authority) 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.”

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