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Broadband boost: Cambria community receives internet funding

JOHNSTOWN, PA. – As the co-owner of a Cambria County internet provider, Nick Weakland often gets calls from rural Allegheny Township residents who are frustrated that their internet can’t meet today’s Google Classroom and web-streaming demands.

His answer is always the same.

“I can get anyone faster internet,” he said, “but with wireless technology ... it can cost them thousands of dollars to get the signal they need above their property’s tree line to their home.

“And in Cambria County, we know people can’t afford that.”

On Tuesday, his company, In The Stix Broadband, received a nearly $450,000 boost to bring true high-speed internet service to much of Allegheny Township through legislation spearheaded by state Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Richland Township.

It’s an infrastructure undertaking In The Stix itself couldn’t afford without help, Weakland said.

Through the state grant, the company will run 25 miles of fiber-optic lines – the industry standard – along utility lines and through trenches to enable at least 400 township customers to receive the high-speed internet that families and businesses need more than ever, Langerholc said.

Following a two-year period that sometimes saw children at home or with parents outside Wi-Fi “hot spots” attending online classes, the challenges of COVID-19 have reinforced the fact that rural communities cannot afford to remain disconnected from reliable high-speed access, the senator said.

“The pandemic highlighted the need for this essential service for education, work and development,” Langerholc said. “I am pleased that our efforts have come to fruition to provide funding for these vital projects.”

The funding program was created through Langerholc’s Senate Bill 835, which was approved unanimously by the state House and Senate in late 2020.

This year, the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program is allocating more than $10 million statewide through the Commonwealth Financing Authority, Langerholc said.

More than 12% of that amount was designated to projects in Langerholc’s district, including Allegheny Township; East Providence Township, Bedford County; and Brush Creek Township, Fulton County.

In all, it will add up to more than 74 miles of fiber-optic cable serving 225 residential customers and 17 business properties, he said.

Weakland said the Allegheny Township project will likely end up benefiting far more customers than the 400 families and 50 businesses his grant application projected, because In The Stix will be able to branch off the network and serve additional nearby customers with reliable internet speeds.

“The best thing about this investment from the state is that it’s not weather- reliant,” Weakland said, “and it’s not something that will require some other huge investment a few years from now, like 5G technology. It’s a one-time expense.”

The project will require support by utility companies and may also be slowed by supply-chain issues – but he said if all goes well, the company will be running new miles of fiber-optic cable through the summer.

Frontier Communications, of Breezewood, was awarded $818,962 to to build a wireless network in East Providence Township, Bedford County, and Brush Creek Township in nearby Fulton County.

According to Gov. Tom Wolf, Windstream Services also received more than $240,000 to run fiber-optic internet in two separate Indiana area regions – Armstrong and Washington townships; and Smicksburg and West Mahoning Township in northern Indiana County.

Langerholc said the state lawmakers are committed to expanding high-speed service.

“We will continue to work toward our goal of ensuring all Pennsylvanians have access to broadband,” he said.

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