Investing in universal internet connectivity presents families, businesses, and communities in Chester County with greater opportunities. From children staying engaged in educational programs over the holiday break to entrepreneurs and small businesses attracting new customers to senior citizens accessing doctors and nurses via telehealth, we all stand to benefit from expanded broadband connectivity.
When the pandemic first hit, our communities, schools, businesses, and health professionals quickly transitioned to a digital way of life. However, this deep dive into technology only widened the existing gap between those connected to high-speed broadband and those without internet capabilities.
While most of Chester County is fortunate to be home to an expansive broadband infrastructure, many residents and communities still need additional support in accessing household service.
Take the City of Coatesville, for example, where 99% of homes can choose between multiple providers for ultra-fast gigabit service. However, only 77% of households subscribe to home internet service and only 62% of lower-income households are connected.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), made possible through funding from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, offers a $30 monthly discount to lower-income households. Coupled with existing discount programs from Internet Service Providers (ISP), ACP makes broadband service essentially free for low-income homes. This program can serve nearly three million Pennsylvanians – including more than one in four households in Coatesville – and chip away at the digital divide. In addition, through the ACP, eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop or desktop computer. With higher consumer costs, this support can make a major difference in bringing more residents and families online.
But our challenges go beyond just affordability. Even with broadband service available for less, many unconnected residents will need a helping hand navigating the sign-up process, gaining comfort with computers, and learning the basics of how to navigate online. Smart public investments in skills development and outreach programs will help overcome these hurdles so that more of our neighbors benefit from the ACP.
The federal infrastructure law also provides tens of billions of dollars nationally to build out high-speed broadband networks in unserved areas. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority kicked off its efforts to prepare for the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid that Pennsylvania will receive to support a coordinated and strategic rollout of broadband to rural areas with the construction of new towers, lines, and equipment. Investing these funds effectively – to make sure they reach the unserved areas whether they’re most needed – will be a game-changer for rural families across the state, including in pockets of southern and southwestern Chester County still waiting for fast, reliable broadband networks.
As we move into the post-pandemic era, it’s clear that reliable, high-speed broadband is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity. Our collective investments in infrastructure, access, equity, and affordability are building the bridge we need to end our digital divide. Together, we can open up more opportunities for success in school, work, and life to every child, family, worker, and community in Chester County and the Commonwealth.
For more information on the Affordable Connectivity Program and how to apply, visit www.affordableconnectivity.gov
NOTE: This Op-Ed by State Senator Carolyn Comitta appeared in the Daily Local News online on December 13, 2022.