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Governor Wolf announces new initiative to expand broadband access

DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa.– Today, Governor Tom Wolf will announce a new initiative aimed at expanding broadband access to businesses and households in Pennsylvania through the creation of a new office dedicated to ensuring every Pennsylvanian has access to high-speed internet. The announcement also will include the introduction of the Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program, which will offer incentives to private providers willing to invest in underserved and unserved areas throughout Pennsylvania.

“High-Speed Internet access is essential to growing our economy, expanding educational opportunities for our children, increasing access to modern healthcare, and improving the safety of our communities,” said Governor Wolf. “For Pennsylvania to succeed we must close the digital divide ensuring every citizen and business has the access it needs to connect to the ever-expanding digital world in which we live and work.”

Governor Wolf will hold a press conference today at 1:30 PM in the Capitol Reception Room to formally announce the initiative. The live stream of the event is available at governor.pa.gov/live.

To spearhead the initiative the governor has created the Pennsylvania Office of Broadband Initiatives which will be responsible for developing and executing a statewide strategy to expand access to every Pennsylvania by the end of 2022. To lead this initiative the governor appointed Mark Smith as the Executive Director of Broadband Initiatives. Smith, a former Bradford County Commissioner, has been with the Wolf Administration since 2015 serving as a Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Government Affairs and Outreach.

Currently, over 800,000 Pennsylvanians still lack access to robust, reliable, High-Speed Internet. Over 520,000 of residents without access reside in rural areas and over 250,000 reside in urban areas.

Additionally, the governor will announce the Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program. Through this program, the Wolf Administration will offer up to $35 million in financial incentives to private providers bidding on service areas within Pennsylvania in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) upcoming Connect America Fund Phase II (CAFII) Auction. The FCC CAF Phase II Auction is making nearly $2 billion available nationwide to providers willing to expand broadband access in unserved areas.

The state’s incentive program is intended to attract further investment in Pennsylvania by allowing providers to apply for state incentive funds, which can be utilized to help them garner funding through the FCC’s CAFII Auction.

The program is available to all service providers interested in the CAFII Auction.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive program timeline:

  • March 22, 2018: Program guidelines will be released.
  • March 30, 2018: Short Form Applications for CAFII Auction due to FCC
  • April 2, 2018:  Applicants may begin to file Preliminary Expressions of Interest.
  • May 4, 2018: Last date to file Preliminary Expression of Interest and applicants may begin to file Qualifications and Final Incentive Requests.
  • June 1, 2018:  Last date to file Qualifications.
  • June 18, 2018:  Last date to file Final Incentive Requests for commonwealth.
  • July 10, 2018:  Commonwealth informs qualified applicants of incentive amounts.
  • July 24, 2018:  FCC CAFII Auction begins.

Any provider who wishes to participate will be subject to state guidelines and requirements that will ensure that service is delivered by June 30, 2022 and broadband speeds meet or exceed 100 Mbps, while encouraging the delivery of gigabit service.

“This is an opportunity to attract investment in many of Pennsylvania’s rural areas and to provide service to many unserved residents, businesses, and farmers,” stated Wolf.

The above noted $35 million of incentive funding is being provided through PennDOT to fulfill its strategic goal of building network along roadways, right of ways, and intersections and furthering connections between all its facilities. As the needs and demands of vehicle technology increase, including autonomous vehicles, so will the demands on the state to support digital transportation needs. Broadband buildout benefits for PennDOT include better communications for public safety devices, the ability to provide high speed access and communication between PennDOT and emergency management partners, the ability to connect key traffic signals to PennDOT’s traffic management centers, the success of deployment of automated vehicles, and many more. Through a creative structure PennDOT will be afforded the use of current and future network services in exchange for incentive funding.

“Every day we’re making investments across the state and the governor’s new program is another example of connecting our communities while laying the groundwork for the economy and transportation advancements of the future,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program is the first, but not the only effort the Office of Broadband Initiatives will undertake to expand broadband access. The new office is also developing a longer-term approach to deliver service to those areas not included in the FCC CAFII auction. This endeavor will require further assistance from the private sector, FCC or other federal agencies, and the state legislature.

In response to the governor’s announcement Pennsylvania Telephone Association President Steve Samara stated “It’s exciting to see the Governor making broadband access a priority for rural Pennsylvania. We are especially appreciative that he recognizes the benefits of leveraging the broadband network that has already been deployed by the PTA member companies and the unique challenges of reaching certain areas with higher-speed services. We are ready and willing to work with the Governor on this critical matter and realize that a partnership between the public and private sector is essential to ensuring we can meet that challenge. “

Furthermore, the Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania President Dan Tunnell stated, “We share the governor’s vision of increasing broadband access throughout the commonwealth. We believe it is critical to the economic vitality of Pennsylvania. We are encouraged by his commitment to this important issue and look forward to working with Governor Wolf to expand our broadband services across Pennsylvanians.”

“I want to ensure every Pennsylvania household and business has access to modern day High-Speed Internet. Equal access to the internet, regardless of location or income, must be provided if Pennsylvania is to remain competitive, if we want to offer every child the best education, if we want to live in a state where we all can access modern day healthcare options, if we want a state where our farms and other businesses thrive, and the jobs of tomorrow are created,” Wolf stated.

SOURCE: Gov. Wolf’s Office