Two bills to expand rural customer access to broadband service approved by committee chaired by Roae

Local News

State Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford/Erie) and his colleagues on the House Consumer Affairs Committee today in Harrisburg approved two bills that would help expand access to broadband internet service to more rural Pennsylvania customers.

“We want to make broadband internet service more accessible for rural Pennsylvania businesses and families,” said Roae, who serves as chairman of the committee.

Roae said the need for expanded broadband service in rural areas became even more obvious when Gov. Tom Wolf shut down the Commonwealth’s economy and schools, forcing many adults to work from home while children relied on the internet for educational materials.

“Many rural workers and students have been at a disadvantage during this shutdown because they don’t have access to broadband internet service,” Roae said. 

The committee approved House Bill 2348, which would establish the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Grant program. 

The program would provide funding to rural electric cooperatives, local development districts and other nongovernmental applicants that are able to operate broadband services.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority would be responsible for running the grant program, which would be funded with $5 million that would be reallocated away from an existing tax credit program.

The non-governmental entity applying for a grant would be responsible for providing at least 25% of the funding for a project.

The non-governmental entity applying for a grant would be responsible for providing at least 25% of the funding for a project.

This would pave the way for more rapid deployment of broadband service compared to if the cooperatives had to establish new infrastructure and acquire new easements.

“We want to encourage broadband development by rewarding investments while also removing barriers that stand in the way of expanding service in rural areas of Pennsylvania,” Roae said.

The committee at the same meeting approved House Bill 1718, which would expand the definition of “landlord ratepayer” to include condominiums, cooperatives and planned communities, and also would affect the way they are notified in advance of a utility service shutoff.

The last bill approved by the committee – House Bill 2293 – would require public utilities operating a natural gas liquids pipeline through a federally defined high consequence area would have to submit their emergency response plans to the county, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Public Utility Commission.

All four bills now head to the full House for consideration.

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