The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) hosted the first of its kind, Regional Broadband & Connectivity Summit, bringing together regional stakeholders, industry and non-profit experts, and local, state and federal governments and agencies to address equitable and affordable access to high-speed broadband internet in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“The goal of this summit was to identify the region’s state of broadband access and affordability, discuss challenges and opportunities at the regional, state and federal level, and understand how local government, providers, and community institutions will need to work together to achieve digital equity and maximize broadband investments here in southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Butler County Commissioner Leslie Osche, who also chairs SPC.
In 2019, SPC identified broadband connectivity as a high priority for southwestern Pennsylvania’s long-range plan. To that end, SPC worked with a coalition of stakeholders to develop the Regional Connectivity Roadmap, which identifies and guides the deployment of high-speed connectivity programs and projects throughout the region. “It only makes sense that SPC, the agency that coordinates transportation & economic development investments, should coordinate broadband and accessibility investments also,” Osche said.
The summit included five sessions, during which panelists addressed the State of the Region, Legislative updates, federal and state funding programs, Digital Equity and Affordability, and Pennsylvania’s Statewide Implementation Plan. The State of the Region session began with an update from, Andy Waple, Deputy Executive Director for Programs for SPC, who told the audience “Within SPC, we have created a connectivity resource center to provide on-call technical services to our constituents and our members. Implementation, technical assistance, public engagement, media outreach: we are poised and ready to assist our members and constituents with whatever their broadband planning needs may be, and to help fund those activities over the coming years. We see connectivity as a form of transportation and that’s been so evident since the pandemic. An increasing amount of regional planning organizations around the country are taking similar approaches.” Commissioner Mike Belding of Greene County spoke about his county’s broadband development efforts, saying “this is a big problem with local solutions. As we say in Greene County, we’re rural but reachable.”
During the Internet for All Funding Panel, an attendee asked the panel if smaller boroughs that neighbor rural communities would be encouraged to partner together and take a regional approach to broadband development. Brandon Carson, Executive Director of PA DCED, PA Broadband Development Authority (PBDA), responded “Absolutely! We have $279 million available through the American Rescue Plan dollars allocated to the Commonwealth. We’re in the process of developing guidelines for three new programs. One of those is geared towards funding regional solutions.”
SPC was honored to have Anna Read, of The Pew Charitable Trusts, as their Keynote Speaker. Ms. Read, leads Pew’s efforts to examine how states and the federal government are working to connect millions of Americans to affordable, high-speed, reliable internet as part of the Trust’s broadband access initiative.
Armstrong County Commissioner and SPC Vice Chairman Pat Fabian closed out the Regional Broadband & Connectivity Summit by saying “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.”
Further details, program slides and a recording of the day’s presentations can be found on SPC’s Connected website under the Resources tab.
Summit sponsors include Armstrong, AT&T, Comcast, DQE Communications, Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Michael Baker International, Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney, First Light, Kimley Horn, Crown Castle and Butler County Chamber of Commerce.