Executive director presents state broadband initiative

Program working toward statewide broadband service

LEWISTOWN–Mark Smith, executive director for the Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives, gave a presentation on state broadband during the Mifflin County Internet Advisory Committee’s monthly meeting on Wednesday.

The PA Broadband Intitiative was formed approximately three years ago by Governor Tom Wolf in order to find ways to bring high-speed internet access to Pennsylvania residents. The main goals of expanding broadband internet throughout the state focus on giving more people access to online job markets, heathcare and educational opportunities.

“This is a project that [Governor Wolf] has been wanting to do for some time, and now I think just because of the situation that we’re in, whether its politically or financially, the state is in a position to move forward and be a part of expanding broadband access,” said Smith.

According to the Federal Communication Commission, there are about 803,000 unserved, or underserved, Pennsylvanians in terms of their accessibility to internet service. Smith stated that many of these individuals are residents of low-income or rural areas.

According to Smith, it is Governor Wolf’s goal to bring internet access to these residents by the end of 2022.

One item that the Office of Broadband Initiatives has been working on is Pennsylvania’s Broadband Investment Incentive Program. PBIIP offers approximately $35 million of financial incentives to internet service providers who are bidding on Pennsylvania service areas in the Connect America Fund II Auction, Smith explained. The $35 million comes in the form of funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“[PennDot] has a strategic goal to build connectivity along roadways and between their facilities because of the oncoming connectivity that cars and trucks and everything on the roadways will take,” said Smith. “To PennDot, this is a massive future cost that they are really challenged to figure out how to fund and finance all these connections across the state.”

PennDot’s funding will be used as an incentive to help internet service providers become more competitive in the CAF-II auction in July. According to Smith, the auction plans to award approximately $1.98 billion of subsidies this fall to service providers who are willing to provide broadband internet access to unserved, or underserved, areas.

In other business, the committee listened to a USDA program update, discussed proposed work with the firm Design Nine, and reviewed an updated website designed for the committee.

The Internet Advisory Committee meets once every month at 3:30 p.m. at the Mifflin County Courthouse.