How can you trust a room full of well-paid people who can’t host a proper Zoom call after weeks of trying to get broadband internet service to rural areas of Schuylkill County?
You can’t. Plain and simple.
If other counties in Pennsylvania are an example, Schuylkill County Commissioners have had months to design and implement a plan to get broadband internet services where they’re needed most here. Instead, they kept pushing forward a “broadband project” they can’t even explain and gets that desperately needed internet access to exactly 0 more people than currently have it.
When you see what others across the state have done using their CARES Act money to get broadband access to their residents, you’ll realize Schuylkill County residents got, for lack of a better term, screwed.
CARES Act – 10 Pennsylvania Counties Expand Broadband Access
Now, you may think it’s difficult to just get broadband internet where it hasn’t been available before in Schuylkill County. If that’s so, then why did at least 10 other Pennsylvania counties vote to use their CARES Act funding to do just that?
Each Commissioner spoke out on the need for broadband internet access but knew that the plan they were enacting wouldn’t get that access to people any faster than it is now.
Either Schuylkill County Commissioners knew they could expand broadband like at least 10 other counties in Pennsylvania did and chose to pursue this poorly planned, and even more poorly communicated plan for 9-1-1 services instead. Or they didn’t know what was available to them. And if that’s the case, they should have taken the time to figure it out.
In some areas of Pennsylvania, places that had little or no internet access will have it before the end of the year thanks to their County Commissioners knowing what they were doing or deferring to people with the public’s interest in mind. But here, we were supposed to praise the Commissioners for getting started on a plan that one day, quite possibly “down the line” could get broadband service to people in the remotest areas of Schuylkill County.
Here are 10 counties across Pennsylvania that addressed the need for expanded broadband access and worked to make it happen quickly using portions of their CARES Act funding:
In Cambria County, Commissioners approved a $1.1 million contract to expand broadband service in rural areas of the county.
Here’s how Cambria County is going to do it. They’ve hired one company – which was the only one to bid on the project – to rig up 9 existing towers with the tech to provide the internet. One of those towers, according to the (Johnstown) Tribune Democrat, is a grain silo.
The company that got the project is known as In the Stix Broadband, of Cresson (not Cressona). In the Stix provides wireless broadband coverage to homes through an antenna and a wireless router. It’s known as Fixed Wireless.
Forest County Commissioners got $19,025 in CARES Act money dedicated to expanding fixed wireless internet service to areas there that needed it. The county is partnering with a mobile communications company to help it get into the ISP business, according to the Times Observer.
In Luzerne County, Commissioners there dedicated $400,000 of its CARES Act funding to expand broadband access to the Freeland area. Luzerne’s plan sounds similar to Schuylkill County’s but they divulge a little more information on how, exactly, their spending gets high-speed internet into homes there.
The money goes toward replacing a public safety tower. And private ISPs will be able to rent space on that tower to install equipment that can get fixed wireless internet to Freeland, according to The Times-Leader.
According to The Bradford Era, McKean County Commissioners diverted some of its CARES Act money to a private company that will implement an expanded broadband network across the mostly rural community.
Commissioners quickly formed a broadband task force and came up with a plan for getting this network up and running before the end of the year.
Commissioners in Mifflin County promised to expand broadband access with a portion of its CARES Act money in 2020. They did award a grant to a wireless communications company for a little less than $29,000. However, it’s unclear from local reporting if that was to satisfy the broadband expansion or a grant to compensate the company for losses in 2020.
Northumberland County Commissioners approved CARES Act payments back in late-September. And one of those recipients was an organization named DRIVE, which is tasked with using $1.25 million there to help improve broadband access to consumers, according to The Daily Item.
Somerset County Commissioners spent more than half its CARES Act funding on expanding broadband access to residents there. The $3.5 in COVID funding Somerset received is just a portion of the $8 million the county expects it will cost to bring broadband to 85% of the company, according to a report from the (Johnstown Tribune-Democrat).
In Wayne County, Commissioners there have approved $1.2 million of its CARES Act fund to improve consumer-ready broadband services in several areas. This investment can bring high-speed internet to more than 22,000 people in Wayne County.
The county government partnered with several private companies, gave them portions of the CARES Act money, and directed them to expand services to more people in Wayne.
We couldn’t find much in the way of details on Westmoreland County’s broadband expansion plans. But the Tribune-Review reports Westmoreland dedicated $1.3 million of its CARES funding to get broadband access to underserved areas there.
In York County, the Commissioners agreed to move forward with a previous plan to install 32 miles of fiber optic line to bring high-speed internet to different areas. They’ll use $5 million of their CARES Act fund to do so. According to Fox43.com, York County also plans to have antennas installed to deliver fixed wireless internet service to where people are under-served by broadband.
Schuylkill County Broadband Plan That Isn’t a Broadband Plan
So, here’s what we did that doesn’t even come close to what the counties above did.
Last week, Schuylkill County Commissioners approved a pair of bonds totaling $6.11 million for the purpose of upgrading its 9-1-1 emergency services. Part of that plan includes erecting towers and another part has us buying mobile dispatch units in the even the radio dispatch center in Pottsville is inoperable due to a COVID outbreak or some other emergency.
Schuylkill County is calling this its “broadband project” and originally, had planned to spend about that full $6.11 million to get it done.
Then, the Commissioners realized they were staring at a massive budget gap and had to close it quickly to pass a balanced budget. So, they took that CARES Act funding and plugged a hole, temporarily, in the County government budget.
Still wanting to move forward with this so-called “broadband project” that’s really just a 9-1-1 expansion project, the Commissioners entered into two separate bond agreements to fund it.
The problem is, as we previously reported, this isn’t a broadband project that results in people without access to high-speed internet suddenly getting it. Commissioners last week described that goal as something for “down the line” and there were a lot of ifs and maybes associated with it.
- Carbon Commissioner Questions Schuylkill CARES Act Spending
- Schuylkill Commissioners Approve $6.11M Bonds for “Broadband Project”
- Finally, Schuylkill County Delivers CARES Act Money – Here’s Who Got a Grant
- No More CARES Act Money Coming to Schuylkill County
- CARES Act Grant Program Comparison: Schuylkill County vs. Carbon County
- Schuylkill County Praises Itself for Work on the CARES Act Business Grant Program
- Schuylkill County Small Businesses Only Getting 7.6% of CARES Act Money
- No-Bid Contracts Another Way Schuylkill Commissioners Stick It to Local Small Business