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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The U.S. Department of Commerce announced that the Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Coalition is one of 60 finalists out of 529 entrants for Phase 1 of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) $1 billion “Build Back Better Regional Challenge”. The Build Back Better Regional Challenge provides transformative investments, up to $100 million per grantee, to develop and strengthen regional industry clusters across the country, all while embracing economic equity, creating good-paying jobs, and enhancing U.S. competitiveness globally.

“We’re proud to be partnering with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development in creating the Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Coalition and working together on these important projects. This new coalition will help leverage our region’s first-class and growing robotics and information technology sector into providing more economic development and job creation throughout all of Southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Vincent Valdes, Executive Director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

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The Southwestern Pennsylvania Corporation, a 501(c)(3) corporation, on behalf of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), is requesting Technical Proposals and Price Proposals (together, the Proposal package) for Regional Ridesharing Software Consultant Services. The selected firm or team of firms will provide SPC with a comprehensive and dynamic regional ridesharing software platform for the 10-county SPC region, along with staff training, software maintenance and technical support.

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More than two dozen residents attended a “Community Conversation” held at the Greene County Fairgrounds Monday evening to discuss broadband access and speed issues in the area and learn about an ongoing statewide connectivity improvement plan.

The event was coordinated by the Greene County commissioners and facilitated by representatives affiliated with Southwestern Pennsylvania Connected, an initiative created to develop a plan to bring equitable broadband access and high-speed internet to the area.

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Survey on internet access ends Sunday

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, which covers Indiana and nine other Pittsburgh-area counties, is nearing the end of a survey seeking information about internet access and experience.

SPC’s Southwestern Pennsylvania Connected initiative is asking community members to take a brief survey online or by phone.

Eligible participants can win a $50 Visa gift card for completing the survey.

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Murrysville officials are considering using some of the municipality’s $1.9 million in American Rescue Plan money to expand broadband internet access.

“I think it’s vital,” Murrysville Chief Administrator Jim Morrison told Murrysville Council members this week. He encouraged residents to complete a survey being undertaken by the nonprofit Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission’s Connected Initiative to learn about broadband access across the six counties the commission serves.

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Survey seeks regional opinions about broadband

With an eye to bringing affordable, reliable internet access throughout a 10-county region, including Indiana, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Connected initiative is asking community members to take a brief survey online or by phone to provide information about their current internet access and experience.

The initiative said eligible participants can win a $50 Visa gift card for completing the survey.

SWPA Connected is a regional consortium that includes the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Carnegie Mellon University, Allies for Children, and a diverse group of regional partners to develop an equitable Connectivity Improvement Plan to provide affordable, reliable broadband internet access across the region.

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President Joe Biden’s signature on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure act will put money in a pipeline that will help communities across Western Pennsylvania in dealing with needs that have been building for years.

“This is the biggest investment that the federal government has made in infrastructure in over half a century. So some of us haven’t seen anything like this investment that we’re going to see in the coming years,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told Pittsburgh’s Action News 4. “Number one, it’s going to put a lot of people to work over the next couple of years as these projects get built out. But the other thing, when it’s all done, it’s going to improve transportation and access and broadband, not just for Allegheny County but for the entire region.”

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The Southwestern Pennsylvania (SWPA) Connected initiative is asking community members to take a brief survey online or by phone to provide information about their current internet access and experience.

Eligible participants can win a $50 Visa gift card for completing the survey.

SWPA Connected is a regional consortium that includes the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Allies for Children, and a diverse group of regional partners to develop an equitable Connectivity Improvement Plan to provide affordable, reliable broadband internet access across the region. This initiative is not affiliated with any internet provider and is not intended to sell any internet services. Rather, it seeks to guide the region’s future internet investments that can be made now that the historic infrastructure bill has passed, which includes $65 billion for broadband.

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As a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed the House on Friday awaits signature by President Joe Biden, the Pittsburgh business community offered their thoughts on what it could mean for the region.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald was quick to herald the good news.

He noted how the bill is “going to put a lot of people to work” and when asked where it might help the most, he said, “it’s really all of the above.”

That includes the prospect for expanding transit, specifically referencing the potential to expand the East Busway and widen Bates Street into Oakland, as well as providing a major new source of funding to help ALCOSAN meet the demands of the federal consent decree over Allegheny County’s stormwater management issues, a multi-billion-dollar project in the coming years for the county.

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