Rep. Snyder introduces bill to ‘beef up’ internet service in rural areas

October 4, 2016
State Rep. Pam Snyder, second from the left, listens with fellow members of the state House Consumer Affairs Committee during a public hearing Aug. 17 in Waynesburg about internet reliability in rural communities. Snyder introduced legislation Tuesday in the state House to upgrade the standard for broadband service in Pennsylvania to increase download and upload speeds for rural customers. - Mike Jones/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

WAYNESBURG – During a public hearing in August to discuss the lack of high-speed internet service in Greene County, state Rep. Pam Snyder said it was time for state lawmakers to demand internet providers “beef up their service” in rural areas.

Snyder, D-Jefferson, moved forward with that promise Tuesday by introducing legislation in the state House to upgrade the standard for broadband service in Pennsylvania to increase download and upload speeds for rural customers.

She said House Bill 2394 would update Title 66 governing public utilities and bring state standards in line with federal requirements. The bill would require customer broadband to offer at least 10 megabits per second for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads.

That would vastly improve the current standards set in place in 2004 when the state Legislature updated Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s regulations on broadband development. That act required every resident in the state to have access to some form of high-speed internet service with at least 1.544 Mbps download speeds.

Those current download speeds are now viewed as antiquated as faster technology had arrived, according to testimony from residents and business leaders during a public hearing at Waynesburg University to address concerns about internet speeds.

“The state standards for high-speed broadband are woefully behind the times, and rural areas deserve the affordable and adequate service that 99 percent of urban residents and businesses already enjoy,” Snyder said Tuesday upon announcing her bill.

The bill already has five co-sponsors from both political parties and representing rural and urban areas.

During testimony at the Aug. 17 hearing, legislators and customers questioned why faster internet service isn’t available in rural area. Steve Samara, president of Pennsylvania Telephone Association, testified that it is expensive to upgrade lines, especially in rural areas that are not as profitable for companies as urban regions that have numerous customers in city blocks.

However, there is $2.2 million in federal Connect America Fund Phase II money earmarked for fiber upgrades in Greene County. Even though that money should be used in the county to help improve internet infrastructure, it still can be spent anywhere else in the state and possibly other areas of the country. There is currently $23.7 million in unclaimed CAF II funds slated for Pennsylvania.

“Increasing speeds means that rural Pennsylvanians can tap the benefits provided by broadband through faster web downloads, improved video streaming, and service capable of supporting multiple users in a household,” Snyder said. “This upgrade is crucial to the region’s advancement.”

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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