Irvin, House Republicans continue push for expanding rural broadband internet

19 January 2024- Once a luxury, broadband has become a necessity, yet too many Pennsylvanians are either unserved or underserved, especially in rural areas. To address the lack of broadband in rural Pennsylvania, Rep. Rich Irvin (R-Huntingdon/Franklin) and the House Republican Policy Committee, led by Chairman Joshua D. Kail (R-Beaver/Washington), convened in Huntingdon earlier this week for a hearing on, “Advancing Our Rural Connectivity.”

“We have a lot of exciting things happening concerning broadband in Huntingdon County, and I really want to showcase that,” opened Irvin, who recognized this issue goes beyond his district. “Bringing attention to this issue is very important for the whole state.”

The first panel of testifiers included Huntingdon County Commissioner Jeff Thomas and David L. Smead Jr., fire chief, Shavers Creek Valley Community Volunteer Fire Company. 

“Huntingdon County’s goal is to get broadband to everyone,” said Thomas, but a lack of access to state game lands and forest lands is one of the obstacles standing in the way.   

For emergency services, reliable broadband is essential for keeping communities safe. Fire Chief Smead gave the example of when a search and rescue team is looking for a missing person, they need to be able to download maps without delay. Another example relates to vehicle extrication. With the ever-advancing technologies in cars, especially electric vehicles, a rescue team may need to quickly research a car’s design so they can efficiently remove a trapped passenger. Poor broadband prevents this from happening. 

The second panel focused on broadband connectivity and deployment, featuring testifiers Dwight Rittenhouse, board member, Rural Broadband Cooperative; Rachel Papuga, project manager, Alleghenies Broadband Inc.; Brandon Carson, executive director, PA Broadband Development Authority, and Todd Eachus, president, Broadband Communications Association of PA. 

“The aging population in rural PA struggles with access as it relates to knowledge,” explained Papuga. Older Pennsylvanians often lack knowledge of digital skills or the latest technologies, which worsens the digital inequity in rural areas as rural areas tend to have an older population. 

“Rural communities are disproportionately affected by lack of connectivity,” said Carson. But with the nearly $1.5 billion dollars in federal funding, he is confident “we can close the digital divide.” Removing burdensome regulations and reforming permitting will also help, agreed both members and testifiers. “We simply cannot afford to leave areas behind,” he emphasized.  

“Broadband isn’t just about lifestyle,” said Kail. “The availability of broadband is about life—family-sustaining jobs and competitive advantages for our children. This is a bipartisan issue we’ve been working on for years. It’s time we remove the obstacles, put resources to work, and advance connectivity for the rural Pennsylvanians who have been technologically disadvantaged for too long.”