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Schuylkill County News

Schuylkill County Commissioners Approve Better Internet … At The Prison

The carrot at the end of the stick has rotted and fallen off.

schuylkill commissioners approve wireless upgrade prison

Last week, Schuylkill County Commissioners approved a plan to improve the internet connectivity somewhere in the county but it definitely wasn’t where it’s needed most.

This could have been good news to the thousands of residents and businesses who suffer from outdated internet connections. But it isn’t.

They’ve been teased for several years now about this so-called “broadband project” that The Canary predicted would be dangled like a carrot in front of mule.

You can check out our previous coverage of the Commissioners approving upgrades to County internet technology but not yours:

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The Commissioners have had 2 different lump sums of money fall into their laps since 2020. And since then, there’s been this talk of a “broadband project” that was supposed to somehow get better internet networks to Schuylkill County residents that still use DSL or satellite internet, connections far below broadband-quality.

However, to date, that’s all there’s been … talk. Well, talk and the Commissioners improving the internet for everyone BUT those Schuylkill County internet dinosaurs, the buffered, if you will.

So, last week was only the latest example of the Commissioners spending some of that COVID aid money from the federal government – this time from the American Rescue Plan Act kitty they’ve been using to balance the budget shortfalls – on internet connections not available to the public.

More Better Internet for Everyone … But You

We knew we’d be able to re-use this meme from 2022. There’s actually an older meme further down the story.

The latest internet project will happen at Schuylkill County Prison in Pottsville. It’s to “expand the wireless network” there. Wireless access points, 42 of them in total, will be purchased and installed at the lock-up.

The purchase includes switches and cabling, too, according to the County. And this project is not to exceed $160,075.

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This money is coming from the remainder of that ARPA money the County government has received from the federal government. The County plans to spend more than $18.6 million of it this year, according to the 2023 budget approved in December.

A report from the Republican Herald detailed that ARPA funds spending plan. Of the $18.6 million they’re planning to spend, $5.6 million was already earmarked to cover the so-called “lost revenue” and is being used to cover up part of the $10 million shortfall the Commissioners faced with this year’s overall budget.

Another $8.3 million is going to “public health related” spending, whatever that means. And $2.9 million is set aside for this alleged broadband project.

The Commissioners didn’t specify from which line item in the ARPA funds spending plan this $160,000 at the Prison would fall under but from what we’ve witnessed with this federal aid, what you say now doesn’t necessarily have to be true later.

Regardless of that, this upgraded wireless connectivity – whether it’s actually necessary or not – is just another slow-loading slap in the face to Schuylkill County residents who probably struggle to load up this article; their internet’s so slow.

The Long, Winding Road to the Broadband Project

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What is the actual broadband project? We may never find out.

This isn’t the first time the Commissioners have approved spending money on network upgrades that don’t have a direct benefit to the public. They’re not improving anyone’s internet connectivity but their own. And this is going on the 4th year of it.

Back in 2020, when the Commissioners got $13 million in CARES Act money, they spent a bundle of it on a backup 9-1-1 system. Then they changed how they were paying for the more than $6 million project.

Initially however, they said the money for it was coming from the CARES Act money and that it could lead to improved broadband for residents in certain areas of the county “down the road.”

They actually had the nerve to call THAT the broadband project.

Well, that’s quite a long road because we still haven’t gotten there.

Commissioners spent some of that CARES Act money in 2020 on a firewall device to improve the internet connections within the Courthouse.

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After a lull in broadband-related discussions in 2021, the Commissioners started tapping into the ARPA funds they got to get more internet upgrades at the Courthouse and other County-owned buildings.

In February last year, they approved more than $300K on a bunch of technology they said was to improve the network infrastructure and expand wireless coverage in those buildings.

But again, not a dime of the ARPA funds or the CARES Act funds have been spent incentivizing internet providers to expand their coverage areas in Schuylkill County, despite them talking about this “broadband project” for years now.


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