A year-long study has confirmed that rural Pennsylvania has slower broadband speeds.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania (CRP), a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly, released their study that measured median broadband speeds across the state.
The results showed there isn’t a single Pennsylvania county where at least 50% of the population achieved broadband connectivity, defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as 25 megabits download speed and 3 megabits upload speed.
“This … announcement validated what I’ve been saying for three years,” said state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson. “Places like my district and the rest of rural Pennsylvania lack the necessary speeds to operate a business, complete school work, and function in today’s high-tech world. We’re being left behind.”
While the FCC has noted that more than 800,000 Pennsylvania residents do not have access to broadband connectivity, the CRP stated the new research indicates that those official estimates are downplaying the true state of the digital divide in Pennsylvania because they rely on self-reported data by internet service providers.
“It’s common knowledge throughout the industry that the FCC maps are terribly flawed,” Snyder said.
Snyder added that, according to the FCC, download speeds of 25 mbps or higher are available in Greene and Fayette counties, which disqualifies those counties from some federal funding to improve infrastructure. However, the rural areas in those counties don’t even come close to hitting that mark, she said.
“We don’t meet those standards here at home, and it greatly hampers our opportunity to grow,” Snyder said.
According to the study, Greene County has download speed availability of 7.2230 mbps with no high-speed fiber optic service, which is the fastest speed available; patches of scattered DSL speed availability, which is the slowest internet speed, and the remainder a mix of cable and satellite, which are considered faster than DSL.
Fayette County, the study shows, has download speed availability of 11.336 mbps with only two small areas receiving high-speed fiber optic service and a majority receiving the slower speeds through cable and satellite.
“This is a very, very important issue for the future of Fayette County as well as Pennsylvania,” said Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Vicites. “You have to have high-speed access to the internet to connect to the world.”
Vicites said he saw the study and knew Fayette County was better with internet availability than other counties, yet he still feels the county has a long way to go.
“It (high-speed broadband) is a different type of infrastructure,” Vicites said. “Infrastructure is critically important for future efforts to develop our economy.”
Snyder said the slow broadband speeds have caused high school students to drive to school parking lots to connect to WiFi to complete homework. It’s also made businesses unable to compete because they cannot sell products online, adults can't take online courses to earn a higher education degree, farmers can't connect their machinery to operate efficiently and other important factors.
“This isn’t about being able to log onto Facebook or stream Netflix movies, it’s about making sure we have the infrastructure to compete in the 21st century,” Snyder said. “This study proves we do not.”
Vicites commended Snyder for pressing the issue at the state level and said the commissioners will support it as a top priority on the county level.
“We want to make sure Fayette County is at the front of the line for any funding or opportunities for planning,” Vicites said.
Snyder said she hopes the study will prompt legislators to put more muscle toward looking for solutions.
“My HB305 passed the House State Government Committee last month. That (bill) directs the Department of General Services to complete an inventory of state assets that can be used to deploy high-speed broadband,” Snyder said, adding the bi-partisan Broadband Caucus will also explore ways to invest in upgrading broadband speeds across the commonwealth.