BLAIR COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — The push for expanding rural broadband is growing in Blair County, but it comes with a $3M price tag.
The broadband service proposal comes after a survey from the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission found 1/3 of the respondents said they’d don’t have broadband access and 50% percent were not satisfied with their current internet service.
The pandemic has emphasized the need for the project, since communities are depending on phone and internet services to make a living and participate in school.
Blair County Commissioner Bruce Erb said students in areas with poor service could use the library or school to do online assignments. Then, COVID-19 hit.
“With them both closed, people are left with very few options if they do not have service to their homes,” he said.
Another issue with lack of internet that the pandemic highlighted is telemedicine, which became essential for medical professions and their patients.
“If you don’t have dependable internet service, it really precludes using that in a lot of the undeserved rural area, and particularly affects our vulnerable, older populations,” Erb said,
The $3.2M project consists of two options: use existing or new towers to provide wireless signal to customers or add fiber connectivity in parts of the region, but it is more expensive.
$1M in CARES Act money will go towards trying to solve the problem, but the deadline to use the funds is unrealistic to how long the entire project will take.
“The whole timeline to do it for the county would be about 12 to 14 months, and we were left essentially with about 4 or 5 months, so what we could do with this was very limited,” Erb said.
The county hopes congress will extend the time they have to use that CARES Act money for another year or so. The $1M will go towards a portion of the project, and the county will still need more grants and funding to complete it.