LEMONT FURNACE – Ongoing efforts to improve broadband and cellphone coverage for rural areas across the Commonwealth was the focus of a House Republican Policy Committee hearing Tuesday in Fayette County. The hearing was hosted by Reps. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette) and Charity Grimm Krupa (R-Fayette), along with committee Chairman Joshua D. Kail (R-Beaver/Washington).
“Pennsylvania has many unserved and underserved areas when it comes to broadband service, and Fayette County is no exception,” Warner said. “We need to work together at the local, state and federal levels to ensure residents and businesses here have access to the services they need, and today’s testimony shows Fayette County’s commitment to improving our situation.”
“Broadband services and cellphone coverage are necessities, not luxuries, and that was reinforced by the testifiers we heard from today,” Grimm Krupa said. “A lack of cell service is a public health and safety issue first and foremost, but the lack of cell service and broadband coverage also puts people at a disadvantage when it comes to remote work or school, telemedicine visits, conducting business and more.”
The committee heard about public safety challenges from Gregg Downer, Luzerne Township supervisor; and Richard Black, GIS/systems manager of the Fayette County Emergency Management Agency, who also serves as a paramedic with Brownsville Ambulance Service and fire chief at Brownsville Fire Company No. 1.
To illustrate the problem, Downer testified, “We had an elderly lady that couldn’t contact her family when she needed assistance. They even bought a monitoring system but that wouldn’t work because she needed the internet.”
Members also heard from Brandon Carson, executive director of the PA Broadband Development Authority (PBDA), and Andrew French, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Fayette, both of whom testified about efforts at both the state and local levels to bring broadband service to areas that need it most.
“Fayette County clearly recognizes the importance of developing solutions related to rural connectivity and access to broadband,” French testified. “Working in partnership with the Commonwealth, county, townships, boroughs and local private sector providers, such as Vitalink, the Redevelopment Authority is confident that broadband connectivity to all residents throughout Fayette County is achievable.”
Carson took several questions from lawmakers about the PBDA’s work to identify projects for funding, as well as addressing other obstacles such as workforce shortages and preparing for permitting delays. Members emphasized that the Commonwealth should not be standing in the way of progress by dragging its feet on permits.
“We identified and outlined these potential obstacles not because they are insurmountable, but as a roadmap for action. We do this work in close collaboration with local and federal partners, along with industry, labor, and other key stakeholders across Pennsylvania,” Carson explained.
Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar (R-Somerset), who serves as the House Republican appointee to the PBDA, added, “In order to meet the needs of today, high-speed broadband must be accessible for residents living in rural Pennsylvania. Expansion is the modern-day equivalent of rural electrification, and this hearing provided further insight on the work we need to do to deploy equitable broadband across Pennsylvania.”
The hearing closed with testimony from Jeremy Crandall, assistant vice president for state legislative affairs at CTIA, which represents the wireless communications industry. He highlighted the significant increase in demand for wireless services and the economic growth, including more than 102,000 wireless-related jobs and a $16.2 billion impact, that can result from investments in growing wireless infrastructure in the Commonwealth.
“Rural communities throughout Pennsylvania lack efficient broadband and cellphone service,” said Kail. “With significant advances in the technological world, we are getting one step closer to overcoming an obstacle to opportunity to create a level playing field for access to high-quality capabilities. That is why we must continue brainstorming innovative ideas on how residents can get the most bang for their buck. Thank you to Reps. Warner and Grimm Krupa, along with the testifiers, for holding this important forum. This hearing equipped us with more knowledge on how we can continue our progress on these issues.”
Video of the hearing and copies of testimony will be available at PAGOPPolicy.com
Representative Ryan Warner
52nd Legislative District
Representative Charity Grimm Krupa
51st Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Warner Contact: Patricia Hippler
Grimm Krupa Contact: 724-438-6100