COMMONWEALTH – Access to affordable, reliable high-speed broadband Internet service stands as the most significant key to unlocking positive economic growth and development in Wayne County, according to several years of research dating back to the 2010 Comprehensive Plan.
The Wayne Tomorrow Initiative’s SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) assessments found broadband internet service among the top priorities in every area from Agriculture to Workforce Development to Quality of Life.
Broadband Internet access, defined by the Federal Communications Commission as 25 megabits/second for downloads and three megabits/second for uploads, is often thought of as a “great equalizer,” a tool that can lead the user to anything from obtaining an education or employment to connecting to social services or friends and family.
Rural areas are at a particular disadvantage regarding access to high-speed broadband. In Pennsylvania, 48 of the 67 counties are considered to be rural. Of the 800,000 Pennsylvanians lacking access to high-speed internet, two-thirds are people living in rural areas. Therein lies the issue: Laying lines over vast amounts of land with relatively few people is not a profitable proposition for internet-service providers.
Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf elevated the quest for broadband by creating the PA Broadband Initiative and an Investment Incentive program to lure more providers to the rural markets. The PA House Republican Policy Committee and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania held hearings on the issue, with the latter investing $50,000 in a Penn State Research Project.
The research team will conduct the most extensive analysis and assessment of Pennsylvania’s broadband access ecosystem to date. Complementing baseline data that already exists, additional tests in the coming months will produce information about the current reality of broadband access as well as data about changes over time.
Sascha Meinrath, the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, leads the team and is a renowned technology policy expert and co-founder of Measurement Lab, a global online platform for researchers to deploy internet measurement tools that empower the public and key decision-makers with useful information about broadband connectivity.
M-Lab allows internet customers across the Commonwealth to test and record their available internet speeds, which will be translated to maps showing actual coverage as opposed to estimates. All residents are encouraged to take the #BroadbandTest from any internet connection – at home or work, etc.
“Accessibility and availability to reliable broadband enhances educational opportunities, increases economic development and can improve our emergency response efforts across the Commonwealth,” said state Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23), chairman of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania Board of Directors. “Penn State’s study will provide valuable insight into broadband connectivity, assess our state’s broadband needs and help the state legislature as it considers optimal ways to expand broadband service throughout our rural communities.”