Amid a national push to boost (and fund) digital access, the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are on a mission to close the digital divide by 2030.

To make this hope a reality, city and county leaders tasked the Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition, a group of nonprofits and institutional partners, with gathering feedback from residents and devising a plan to ensure all county residents have digital access. Roughly a year after the coalition and its members were introduced to the public, the coalition has settled on a plan.

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A high-speed internet expansion study of Lawrence County elicited input from a Shenango Township resident because their household is paying $100 a month for unstable internet service.

Reports of spotty service and connection issues also were reported in Enon Valley Borough, Plain Grove Township, North Beaver Township, and in Volant and Ellwood City boroughs, among other areas, as shown on an accompanying detailed map.

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Feedback is essential to helping the Authority plan for the distribution of federal monies to expand broadband in unserved/underserved areas of PA.

Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (Authority) Executive Director Brandon Carson is asking Pennsylvanians to provide input on the stakeholder engagement process for developing two plans: the State Digital Equity Plan and the Commonwealth’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Five-Year Action Plan.

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“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.

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Over 180 representatives from federal, state and local government, as well as service providers and businesses, met Thursday, Feb. 16, to address broadband deployment throughout the region.

“There are so many limitless opportunities that we wanted to be able to walk out of here understanding, especially how we can take the next step forward in working together,” said Butler County Commissioner Leslie Osche. “And I’m clear on it — I think everybody else is.”

The seven-hour summit — hosted by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission at Cranberry Township’s Regional Learning Alliance — was prompted by the commission’s regional study on broadband accessibility. Its series of panel discussions addressed legislation, affordability, funding and, ultimately, statewide implementation for the service.

“I think we came in today just looking to get educated, and looking to educate the attendees,” said Andy Waple, deputy executive director of programs for the commission. “And for collaboration.”

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Butler County to host broadband summit

The state of broadband across a 10-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania, including Butler County, will be the topic of an event Thursday in Cranberry Township.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) is hosting a Regional Broadband Summit from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Regional Learning Alliance Learning and Conference Center, 850 Cranberry Woods Dr.

“The hope would be that we all walk away with better ideas of how to implement the plan within our own counties and municipalities,” said Leslie Osche, Butler County commissioner and chairman for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. “And what it’s going to take to get that done.”

This event is intended to educate attendees about the state of the region’s connectivity, community funding opportunities, available resources and more. County and local government officials, nonprofits, school district leaders, local internet service providers, telecommunications companies and members of the public are expected to attend. The event is at capacity.

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THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT AND REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED.

Please join us online at https://www.youtube.com/@spcregion to view the livestream.
If you are interested in attending in person please email dalwine@spcregion.org. Please note we cannot guarantee available space.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) is hosting a Regional Broadband Summit on February 16, 2023 from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry Township, Butler County. This event will educate local governments, non-profits, partners and the public about the state of the region’s connectivity, community funding opportunities and available resources (programmatic and infrastructure), current and future legislation considerations, and other important issues. The summit includes standalone sessions on various federal, state, and regional initiatives, a keynote speaker, and other networking opportunities.

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Allegheny County, followed by Indiana and Fayette counties, had the highest number of homes and businesses with internet connections in a 10-county region with connections so slow they didn’t even qualify as broadband, according to a new study by a Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission-led coalition of nonprofits.

At the same time, the study named Allegheny, Beaver and Armstrong as counties as places with remarkably fast online speeds as well.

Although Allegheny County had among the fastest internet speeds in the 10-county region, the study identified pockets of the county where internet access lagged — in municipalities along the Monongahela River, for example. Western Washington County, Greene County and much of Indiana County, traditionally Amish country, also lacked the fiber cables, towers and other gear necessary for speedy connections.

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Washington County has begun a three-year, $30 million project to expand internet access in the rural county, which is located about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh. The first baby steps in the project will bring service to about 50 homes in Avella, home to fewer than 1,000 people, and also to the nearby Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village. Meadowcroft, a National Historic Landmark operated by the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, was a campsite used 19,000 years ago by hunters and gatherers who left behind traces of ice age fire pits, stone and bone tools and pottery fragments.

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Pennsylvania is preparing for an influx of broadband funding expected from the federal infrastructure bill.

The new funding follows a pandemic that pushed many people online and revealed widespread challenges with broadband access. Federal legislators answered the call with $65 billion in the infrastructure bill, in addition to some broadband funding in pandemic relief packages. But this isn’t the first time large amounts of money have been pumped into broadband.

For many years, Federal Communications Commission programs have offered funding for broadband expansion. But many places still lack access, or affordable access, and in some cases, it’s not entirely clear where the money went. This time, states are hoping to make sure the dollars translate into access.

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