Cranberry summit provides update on broadband efforts

“The lack of access to high-speed broadband is a genuine problem in many communities throughout our region,” Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission Vice Chairman and Armstrong County Commissioner Pat Fabian during a Regional Broadband & Connectivity Summit Thursday in Butler County.

SPC is a municipal planning organization representing Pittsburgh and the 10 counties surrounding the city, which seeks to work as one on the goals of transportation, planning and development, and information systems in the southwestern corner of the state.

“Without this, our region’s businesses, households and public institutions cannot prosper,” Fabian said to an audience gathered in Cranberry Township. “At SPC, we believe that by working together with private and public partners and across local, regional, state and federal levels, we can lead the effort to make our vision of affordable, equitable broadband access a reality in every part of southwestern Pennsylvania.”

During the summit, it was reported that most of the 10-county region are either underserved, with download speeds of less than 50 megabits per second (Mbps), or unserved, with download speeds of less than 25 Mbps.

SPC said download speeds between 50 and 99 Mbps are more common in Allegheny and Butler counties, but are found only in small areas throughout the remaining eight counties, including Armstrong and Indiana.

A series of panel discussions took up much of the day, including one regarding the “Pennsylvania Statewide Implementation Plan” and a summary of regional efforts, with Indiana County Office of Planning & Development Executive Director Byron G. Stauffer Jr. as the moderator.

Stauffer has been at the forefront of efforts to expand broadband in Indiana County, with one $2.3 million contract awarded so far and more to be brought soon to the county commissioners. The ICOPD director said the next phase of what eventually will be a $7 million network of broadband connections could be announced as soon as the next meeting of the county board on Wednesday.

Stauffer was joined by two representatives of state agencies, Brandon Carson, executive director of the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, and Dr. Kyle Kopko, executive director of the General Assembly’s Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

Kopko said there are 19 counties regarded as urban, 48 as rural, with some rural areas in every county except Philadelphia and Delaware counties.

He said there has been stagnation in rural communities in Pennsylvania, with the population in those communities rising from 3.39 million to 2000 to 3.47 million in 2010, then dropping back to 3.38 million in 2020.

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