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Pennsylvania, like many other states, has a digital divide that separates the haves from the have-nots. And at no other time has this divide seemed wider than in the last year. From students trying to do their lessons remotely to small businesses trying to survive and residents depending on telemedicine while confined to their homes, the lack of broadband service is holding people back all over Pennsylvania, but especially in less populated communities.

The situation is stunting economic growth, jeopardizing public safety, and putting students, small businesses and even farmers at a disadvantage.

Sen. Gene Yaw, chairman of the board for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, says there’s a lot of work to do and it’s going to cost a lot of money.

The center has studied the issue for several years and has released eye-opening reports on huge swaths of the state without access to broadband. In every Pennsylvania county, half the population lacks adequate broadband service.

When you think about how far the internet reaches into our daily lives — we use it to communicate, shop, do business, and get news — it’s unacceptable that there are still broadband have-nots. People have chosen to live and work in communities where they value the lifestyle. They shouldn’t have to pay more for internet service or accept substandard service — or no service at all — simply because they made a choice to enjoy the less populated areas of Penn’s Woods.

Many of our township officials are also suffering from no or slow service, which hampers their ability to do their jobs, such as filing reports with the state, many of which the state requires to be filed online.

This is just as unacceptable today as the lack of running water, sewage and electricity was decades ago. This is the 21st century, and it’s time for action to accelerate broadband expansion statewide and ensure that funding is directed to areas with the greatest need.

While the commonwealth has been working on various proposals to make progress on this hefty lift, a good bit of action is happening at the local level through grassroots initiatives.

And now, new federal funding from the American Rescue Plan (and this week’s infrastructure package) that could be used for broadband expansion may just be another shot in the arm.

Community leaders, residents, lawmakers and service providers are coming together to launch innovative broadband solutions. From a three-phase fiber installation project in Bradford County to a SEDA-COG project in central Pennsylvania and the Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative fiber network under way in northcentral Pennsylvania, the state’s have-nots are now becoming haves.

The examples of broadband innovation are all over Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of work to be done yet, but it’s local determination that will make the difference in the long run. The need is great. Everyone, no matter where they live in Pennsylvania, deserves this most vital, essential service. The future of Pennsylvania’s families depends on it. It’s time to stop talking the talk and begin walking the walk now that we have this once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity.

Editor’s Note: President Joe Biden this week proposed spending $100 billion on universal broadband as part of his infrastructure initiative. 

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