Beaver County Commissioners on Thursday took the wraps off a two-year plan to bring the internet to about one-third of the county where logging on is slow or impossible, giving the onetime smokestack-industrial heartland a head start in connectivity.
In all, some 2,000 homes in parts of 28 of the county’s 54 municipalities will be able to get online by 2024, commission Chair Daniel C. Camp III said. The commissioners earmarked nearly $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the project, which will begin in Hanover Township, followed by Big Beaver Borough, South Beaver Township and Darlington Township.
Meetings with municipal officials begin in April. Areas targeted for broadband expansion can be found here.
Lance Grable, director of the Beaver County Office of Planning and Redevelopment, said the county has been ahead of other areas in getting every home connected.
“We are out ahead, way out ahead because we started way before the pandemic,” Mr. Grable said. “We believe we have the road map for the state.”
Washington, Crawford, Blair and Cambria are among the counties looking for ways of lighting up dark spots to improve education and business opportunities for residents, a costly process that, until recently, has been slowed by lack of funding. But things promise to get a whole lot smoother after the enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November, which allocated $65 billion for broadband expansion projects in the U.S.
In May, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will begin accepting applications from states for broadband expansion projects, with preference given to rural or poorly served areas. Beaver County has a lead in applying for these funds because the county has already done an assessment to identify areas with inadequate connections.
Under a $2.7 million contract, engineering firm Michael Baker International and Beaver officials identified more than 2,300 unserved residents and businesses in the county.
Elsewhere in the state, NTIA in February awarded $20.4 million to a six-county consortium — Huntingdon, Bedford, Fulton, Mifflin, Juniata and Franklin —- to build broadband infrastructure. The money will be used to bring fixed wireless technology to 7,261 homes.
Internet connectivity is key to economic development, said state Rep. Pam Snyder, a Democrat from Greene County and a member of the newly formed 11-member Pennsylvania Broadband Authority, who was among the people attending the Beaver news conference in Industry Borough.
“I’ve been saying this for five years, you can’t compete if you can’t connect,” Ms. Snyder said. “This is going to be huge for Pennsylvania. It’s a generational opportunity.”
Tenth grader Danielle Thompson, 15, said getting school assignments online after classrooms closed because of the pandemic was nearly impossible. The problem: spotty internet connections and slow downloads at her home in Industry on her school-issued Chromebook.
Often she had to use her iPhone as a hot spot to boost the internet connection.
“It was a big problem,” Danielle said. “All of my assignments were never on time.”