HARRISBURG — State Rep. Martin Causer’s proposal to help boost broadband access in the state’s most rural communities has been signed into law.
“The pandemic has shown us time and again that broadband access is a necessity, not a luxury,” said Causer, R-Turtlepoint. “Our students and teachers need it to improve educational opportunities. Businesses need it to stay competitive and better serve their customers. And our doctors and patients need it to improve access to health care.”
Act 132 of 2020 creates the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program to provide grants in support of broadband expansion in areas most in need of these services. Initial funding comes from a repeal of the $5 million Mobile Telecommunications Broadband Investment Tax Credit, though the law calls for supplementing the $5 million with additional state or federal funds.
The grant program will be administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. Eligible applicants for this program include nongovernmental entities with the ability to operate broadband services through wireline or fixed wireless technology, which can include rural electric cooperatives and local development districts.
At least 25% of funding for a project must come from the nongovernmental entity, not counting state or local grants, loans or subsidies. Projects to be managed or operated by a government entity are ineligible to receive grant funds and projects resulting in an overbuild would not be eligible. Buildout in areas with high-speed broadband service already will constitute an overbuild.
Preference will 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.
Causer’s House Bill 2348 was amended into Senate Bill 835, which was signed into law as Act 132. The law takes effect immediately.
This is the second major pro-broadband measure to become law this fall. Act 98 of 2020 will help clear the way for rural electric cooperatives, cable companies or any entity that wants to run broadband cable to provide the service using the existing infrastructure and easements held by rural electric cooperatives. The law effectively cuts through some of the red tape that was slowing down the pace and driving up the cost of broadband expansion.