This past summer, two reports were issued that have real meaning to the agricultural community.
First was a report from United States Department of Agricultural’s National Agricultural Statistics Service revealing just how much rural Pennsylvania lags behind neighboring states and the entire continental United States digitally.
It showed that 64% of Pennsylvania farms had internet access in 2020. This compared with 82% of farms nationally and contrasted with internet access by farms at 80% in Maryland and Delaware, 91% in New Jersey, and 81% in New York.
Second, was a report from the Joint State Government Commission, which presented proposals as to how Pennsylvania can reach the goal of universal access to high-speed broadband.
This report was mandated by Senate Resolution 47 to establish a broadband think tank to research policy options and recommend public policies. The Pennsylvania State Grange is the only membership rural organization chosen to be part of this effort.
The long-term solution suggested by the Joint State Government Commission report is to establish an independent broadband authority to be the central point of contact to develop funding sources, seek federal dollars for broadband, and provide grants to provide high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved areas.
Pennsylvania State Grange strongly supports creation of the broadband authority.
Universal access to high-speed broadband has been the Pennsylvania State Grange’s top legislative priority for several years and we are excited that Pennsylvania is on the cusp of making this goal a reality.
Pennsylvania House Bill 2071, which creates a broadband authority to target funding to currently unserved and underserved areas, is poised to be on the governor’s desk by the end of the year. The authority will, among other duties, disburse the funding provided by the federal infrastructure bill to increase broadband access in rural areas.
Funding from the American Rescue Plan as well as the infrastructure bill is welcome news for rural Pennsylvanians who have been hit hard during the pandemic as increasing number of services moved to online platforms.
Many of our Grange members found themselves in the untenable position of residing in low-density areas, too far away from broadband equipment and with limited access. This made telemedicine, work commitments and remote learning nearly impossible.
Reports of high school students who had difficulty graduating from high school due to being in a last-mile situation have been heard all too often.
The agriculture industry in Pennsylvania is also in desperate need of broadband. Many of our members want to upgrade farm equipment to help in their productivity. But without reliable broadband, the equipment is useless.
Pennsylvania is a major producer of agriculture products such as milk, fruit and mushrooms. Farmers depend on broadband in their farming operations to be more efficient and economical, which in turn allows Pennsylvania to continue to compete in a global economy.
Without reliable broadband, we cannot maintain Pennsylvania’s output of agriculture products.
Help is on the way for Pennsylvanians in this unfortunate situation. American Rescue funding given to Pennsylvania counties is being deployed into rural areas.
While there is certainly no one-size-fits-all technology when discussing broadband, many rural counties are increasingly turning to fiber optic lines to meet the needs of citizens in low-density areas. Investing in fiber optic lines could be a long-term solution for unserved areas of Pennsylvania.
Fiber optic lines are a reliable and efficient way to address rural broadband needs. The speed fiber provides coupled with the low maintenance it requires make fiber effective.
Fiber optic cables can save on long-term maintenance costs in areas of the state that are not as accessible. Fiber optic cables are also capable of transitioning to different tasks as customers’ needs change.
The Pennsylvania State Grange is excited to be an integral part of policy decisions as they are being made on the topic of broadband.
Pennsylvania is on the verge of connecting communities with technology they desperately need, and we encourage policy makers to continue the push to true universal broadband.