Federal auction aims to increase broadband availability in rural areas

3 min read
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Residents of Allegheny, Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland County who don’t have access to high-speed internet service should eventually be seeing more availability.

The change is related to the Federal Communications Commission’s auction for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Successful bidders in Pennsylvania will receive $368.7 million over the next 10 years to bring high-speed internet service to homes and businesses that are underserved or do not have access to broadband that meets current federal standards.

The FCC indicates more than 99% of the successful bids are for 100 Megabit-per-second download speeds, four times faster than the “Netflix speed” benchmark of 25 Megabits per second currently used by the FCC to define access to broadband service

The state Public Utility Commission noted successful funding for these projects is the result of work by many stakeholders who supported it, including the office of Gov. Tom Wolf, legislators and Penn State University’s Rural Extension Program, who developed a detailed and publicly available map that showed all the eligible areas and the support that could be provided to interested bidders.

The federally operated Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program is not awarded to or on behalf of the commonwealth.

Funding was awarded to private companies that have the responsibility to meet the federal requirements of the program. The PUC cannot direct or adjudicate how companies will fulfill their obligations under this federal program.

Wolf called the developments “a significant step toward bridging the digital divide.”

“The current pandemic has vividly demonstrated the pressing need to expand high-speed internet access to enable telehealth and allow students to connect with their classmates and teachers,” the governor said in a news release.

State Rep. Bud Cook (R-West Pike Run) identified winning bidders the 49th Legislative District in Washington and Fayette counties as Armstrong Telephone Co., Northern Division, $139,542; QCOL Inc., $235,146; Space Exploration Technologies Corp., $6.77 million; and Windstream Services LLC, debtor-in-possession, $3.19 million.

They will serve 6,974 homes and businesses in his district, Cook said.

State Rep. Pam Synder (D-Jefferson) said in a news release that the action will benefit nearly 10,000 residents in her district, which includes all of Greene County and parts of Fayette and Washington counties.

She listed the allocations in Fayette as Armstrong, $80,508; Space Exploration, $3.43 million, and an identical amount as Cook announced for QCOL.

Windstream Services LLC, serving Greene County, will receive a federal allocation of $13.96 million.

In Washington County, the allocations include Armstrong, $59,034; Space Explorations, $3.33 million; and Windstream, $3.14 million.


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