Pennsylvania is taking significant steps towards expanding broadband access throughout the state.
The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA) has recently approved the guidelines for a new $200 million Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program, aiming to boost the availability and affordability of high-speed internet for Pennsylvanian communities, particularly those underserved or unserved.
PBDA Executive Director, Brandon Carson, announced that the grant application process officially opened on May 10, with the program’s guidelines to be available on the Authority’s website.
The lack of or inadequate access to high-speed internet services is an issue that has been prevalent in many communities across the state. It’s especially true here in Schuylkill County.
For the last 3 years, Schuylkill County Commissioners have balked at expanding broadband access, despite the desperate need for improved internet, especially in rural areas.
This often leads to a digital divide, limiting some people’s ability to fully participate in a society that’s increasingly dependent on digital connectivity. The Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program seeks to tackle this issue head-on.
Funded through the Capital Projects Fund, the program aims to enhance line extension and development projects and catalyze large-scale regional infrastructure initiatives. The resulting projects are required to deliver internet service boasting symmetrical download and upload speeds of at least 100 Mbps, with a preference for fiber-optic deployment. Furthermore, projects must demonstrate a viable sustainability strategy to ensure continued operation through maintenance, repair, and network upgrades.
“This is the first grant program the Authority is offering, and we look forward to seeing the impact it makes as we work to close the Commonwealth’s digital divide,” Carson says.
The program imposes several requirements on potential applicants:
- There is a 25% match requirement, wherein federal, state, or local funding received by applicants may count towards the match.
- Grant requests must fall between a minimum of $500,000 and a maximum of $10 million.
- Applicants must guarantee that their projects either achieve or contribute to a plan for universal broadband coverage in their locality or region.
- The program mandates participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program and requires applicants to detail their strategies to ensure sustained and affordable internet access for low to moderate-income households in the project area.
- Projects funded under the program may be subject to the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act, generally applicable to projects involving construction, renovation, or installation of machinery and equipment exceeding $25,000.
The application window will remain open until July 10, 2023. The PBDA expects to award grants before the end of the year, and funded projects must reach substantial completion, defined as services being delivered to end users, by December 31, 2026. The program will be managed following U.S. Treasury guidelines and Act 96 of 2021.