HARRISBURG – The House Consumer Affairs Committee has advanced legislation authored by Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter) and Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) to help bring broadband services to the state’s rural communities.
“If there was any question about the necessity of high-speed internet service, the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent closure of our schools put that to rest,” Causer said. “While our schools have done the best they can to reach and teach our students at home, the lack of effective internet service in many of our communities puts our kids at a disadvantage.
“It’s past time to get our schools, businesses and medical facilities the high-speed internet access they need to best serve our students, customers and patients,” Causer said.
House Bill 2348 would create the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program and fund it by repealing the Mobile Telecommunications Broadband Investment Tax Credit. This credit is currently limited to $5 million per year and is available to mobile telecommunication providers to invest in broadband equipment in Pennsylvania. The $5 million would instead be directed toward a grant program.
“As part of our annual Performance Based Budgeting process each year, the Independent Fiscal Office found approximately 90% of the spending incentivized with this tax credit would have occurred without it,” said Dunbar, who serves as vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We can put this funding to work in a far better way in the form of a competitive grant program to promote investment in some of the areas most in need of broadband service.”
Under the bill, the grant program would be administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. Along with the $5 million appropriation called for in the bill, additional state and federal funding could be directed to the account and used for grant awards.
Entities eligible for grants would include nongovernmental entities with the technical, managerial and financial expertise to design, build and operate high-speed broadband service infrastructure within this Commonwealth; and rural electric cooperatives or local development districts in the Commonwealth. Any nongovernmental entity that qualifies for a grant would have to invest from its own funds at least 25% of the project cost.
Preference would be given to projects in the most unserved areas of the Commonwealth as defined by the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum speed requirements and to projects that already have federal funding allocated to them.
The committee also approved House Bill 2438, which would allow rural electric cooperatives to use their existing infrastructure to deploy fiber lines for broadband service. Both bills now go to the full House for consideration.