Report: States, incl. Pa., take varied approaches to broadband funding | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Most state broadband expansion programs emphasize unserved areas, but eligibility, funding requirements, and accountability measures vary, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts

December 15, 2021 7:11 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The $10 billion in federal funding included in the American Rescue Plan for broadband expansion was viewed as a critical lifeline for state governments, which found themselves scrambling to meet exploding demand in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even so, as a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts points out, millions of Americans still lack sufficient access to broadband services because they live in rural areas, which are difficult to reach.

By this fall, 44 states had established grant programs to cover the costs of broadband deployment in areas where it might not otherwise be economically feasible, according to Pew.

And while those programs generally share a common focus on increasing availability and subscription rates in communities without sufficient access, they vary across states regarding the amount of funding available, specific goals, speeds standards, eligibility, and required level of community engagement,” the Pew report found.

Further, “while some state programs must adhere to strict requirements for what types of projects or providers can receive funding, others have more flexibility to change and adapt,” Pew researchers found.

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As the Pew report makes clear, all states can set a cap on the maximum amount of funding that can be awarded to a single project. In Pennsylvania’s case that’s $1 million, or 75 percent of a project’s total cost (whichever is less), though it can go as high as $10 million California.

That disparity “reflects the diverse scale of state grant programs and the amount of funding they have available for broadband expansion: In 2021, state appropriations for high-speed internet deployment ranged from $500,000 in Montana to $100 million in Iowa and Tennessee,” according to Pew.

Pennsylvania’s existing, $5 million Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program, administered through the state Department of Community & Economic Development, provides what’s known as “middle-mile and last-mile high-speed broadband infrastructure” to unserved areas in the state. As the Pew report notes, this is a typical use of the state grant money.  

The Democratic Wolf administration also has awarded $20.6 million in funding to 126 schools and libraries across the state through a program known as the “Emergency Connectivity Fund,” to “ensure students have access to the digital devices, including internet services they need for the school year,” the administration said in a statement.

On Monday, the state House approved a bill creating the new Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, which will administer the expected $100 million Pennsylvania will receive through the recently approved federal infrastructure law. The bill is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“For too long, we’ve talked about broadband without action,” Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene, who has long pushed the effort in the House said, according to Capitolwire. “This has been a long time coming.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
An amended version of a Republican-penned bill requiring medical facilities to provide for the disposition of remains after a fetal death advanced out of a Senate committee on TuesdayMarley Parish reports.

Almost a year after the Pennsylvania Department of State failed to advertise a proposed constitutional amendment extending the window for survivors of sexual abuse to sue their perpetrators, a Senate panel has advanced a bill that aims to prevent the mistake from happening again, Marley Parish also reports.

State Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny, with the backing of state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, is expected to enter the 2022 Democratic primary for lieutenant governorStephen Caruso reports.

To free up time in Harrisburg for more lawmaking, the Pennsylvania General Assembly could soon change how it names bridges and roadsStephen Caruso also reports.

Juvenile justice advocates gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to call on lawmakers to enact the recommendations of a long-awaited reform report. Your newsletter author has the story.

Pennsylvania’s “PA Preferred Organic Program,” an initiative aimed at helping Pennsylvania farmers transition to growing organic crops, as well as promote and market organic produce, could become a permanent part of the state’s budget thanks to a bill currently in the General AssemblyCassie Miller reports.

Officials from the state Department of Agriculture and local leaders in Cumberland County spoke from the Cumberland County Courthouse Tuesday to remind Pennsylvanians to get their 2022 dog license before year’s end, Cassie Miller also reports.

In today’s edition of Helping the Helpers, our partners at the Uniontown Herald-Standard highlight the efforts of the Yough River Trail Counciland explain how you can support their work.

Gov. Tom Wolf has joined with other Democratic governors to press the U.S. Senate to act on long-delayed voting rights legislationCapital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa writes.

Black homeownership in Philadelphia lags whites, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, the head of Common Cause Pa. explains why the organization is in Commonwealth Court today fighting to protect your vote. And the U.S. doesn’t have enough faculty to train the next generation of nurses, a University of South Florida expert writes.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks Wednesday, 3/17/21 during a biweekly update on the city’s gun violence response (Philadelphia Tribune)

Tensions are escalating between Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and two city elected officials over the city’s gun violence problem, the Inquirer reports.

The Pittsburgh school district will seek a 3% tax increase in its newest budget request, the Post-Gazette reports.

The state has recast its historical markers, listing confederate soldiers as ‘enemy’ troopsSpotlight PA reports.

The United States has passed the grim milestone of 800,000 COVID-19 deathsNPR reports (via WITF-FM).

COVID-19 is killing younger people in Pennsylvania, PennLive reports.

Meanwhile, patients speak to LancasterOnline about their frustrations as hospitals put off procedures to help deal with a bed shortage.

And flu cases are rising sharply across the state, the Times-Tribune reports.

Here’s how York’s mayor wants to spend $35 million in COVID-19 relief funds, the York Daily Record reports.

The state House has passed legislation banning private money from Pennsylvania election operations, the Morning Call reports.

WHYY-FM runs down what little is known about a Republican-authored congressional map that’s currently making the rounds.

Erie restaurants are the beneficiaries of $10 million in federal relief fundsGoErie reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House and Senate both come in at 11 a.m. today.
9 a.m., 60 East Wing: House and Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs committees
9 a.m., G50 Irvis: House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee
10 a.m., 140 Main Capitol: Special Education Funding Formula Commission
10 a.m., 523 Irvis: House Local Government Committee
10:30 a.m., 8E-A East Wing: Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee
Call of the Chair: Senate Rules Committee
Call of the Chair: House Appropriations and State Government committees

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Leanne Krueger
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Scott Conklin
Hit both events, and give at the max, and you’re out a mere $5,000 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf heads to Philadelphia for a 2 p.m. newser encouraging people to shop small this holiday season.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s one from The Weakerthans to get your Wednesday morning rolling. It’s ‘Tournament of Hearts.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The reinvigorated Vancouver Canucks won their fifth in a row under new coach Bruce Boudreau, rallying in the third period to slip past the Columbus Bluejackets 4-3 on Tuesday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.