The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill passed by Congress last month includes $65 billion to provide better internet access to rural and low-income communities.
Pennsylvanians see the internet as a necessity to their economic future.
In Huntingdon County, issues with getting online led to the founding of the Rural Broadband Cooperative, a small nonprofit that built a radio tower on a nearby mountain to provide wireless internet service to the central Pennsylvania region.
Henry McCreary, general manager of the Rural Broadband Cooperative, said based on customer anecdotes, the infrastructure bill could help families with students who struggled to connect during COVID.
“Mom had to drive the kids 15 miles every day to grandmother’s house for the kids to be able to access to the internet to get their schoolwork done, which was really a burden for them for lots of reasons,” McCreary related.
The cooperative is now up to 250 customers and growing. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will provide Pennsylvania with an estimated $100 million over the next five years to increase broadband connectivity across the Commonwealth. An estimated 394,000 Pennsylvanians lack internet coverage.
In Juniata County, 26% of households don’t have broadband access, according to U.S. Census data.
Vince Giordano, director of the Juniata County Library, said many residents depend on them to get online. He said so far this year, the library’s mobile hotspots have been used about 250 times. Giordano argued making broadband widespread in Juniata County is vital to its future.
“Pennsylvania is a big state. And I think if rural areas are going to excel, they need internet,” Giordano contended. “And if they don’t excel, people are going to leave. Even just having good internet can allow people to work from home and do remote work. But if people don’t have the internet, they can’t really do that.”
Juniata County’s population fell by about eleven-hundred people between 2010 and 2020, according to U.S. census data. Through the infrastructure package, 23% of Pennsylvanians will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Program, which will help low-income families pay for internet access.