(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — A newly awarded grant will fund a study on how to improve broadband access in Erie County.

The $50,000 Appalachian Regional Commission POWER Initiative grant was celebrated by local legislators on Monday, Oct. 17. The study will look at existing coverage and gaps to find recommendations for expanding access throughout Erie County.

“Broadband has quickly gone from a luxury to an essential public utility, especially for our small businesses looking to compete and grow, or students looking to get ahead in life,” Bizzarro said in an announcement touting the grant. “You don’t have to travel far in Erie County to find large gaps in service, and I want to change that for everyone as soon as possible.”

The project will serve 16 communities. Erie Area Council of Governments will be tasked with contracting with experts to perform the study while working alongside the Erie County Department of Planning and Community Development.

State Rep. Pat Harkins concurred with the widespread need for broadband.

“Fast, reliable internet isn’t a luxury — it’s an essential connection that opens doors to jobs, education and community connections,” Harkins said. “We need to make sure all those connections are in place so communities have the access they need.”

The project is one of nine in a $6.9 million package devoted to Pennsylvania’s coal communities to support economic development.

“Even as access has improved in many places, residents and business owners in the eastern and southern parts of the county have continued to struggle with spotty coverage and access,” said state Rep. Bob Merski. “It’s critical for us to pinpoint where strong connections are lacking so they can be brought up to speed.”