LEMOYNE, Pa. — The theme of the Pennsylvania State Grange Panel on Broadband at the 2021 Farm Show was simple: Our work is not done. This virtual discussion on the need for universal access to high-speed Broadband (Internet and cell phone service) centered on the progress made by the General Assembly in 2020 as a beginning rather than a conclusion.
Panel Presenters included: Wayne Campbell, President, Pennsylvania State Grange; PA Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill, Majority Chair, Senate Communications & Technology Committee; Representative Pam Snyder, Co-Chair, House Broadband Caucus; Steve Samara, President, PA Telephone Association; and Yvonne Hursh, Counsel and Program Director, Joint State Government Commission which issued a landmark study of Broadband policy options in 2020.
Presenters commented on the impact COVID-19 made in getting legislation passed because, in Wayne Campbell’s words, “COVID made everyone aware of the hardships suffered by people and businesses that could not use technology to adapt to the pandemic crisis.”
Senator Phillips-Hill stressed that while victories were won last session more work needs done, pointing to two legislative proposals which did not cross the finish line. One would require the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to review and modernize regulations related to high-speed communications. Another proposal supported by Mr. Samara and the PA Telephone Association would reduce the regulatory burden of the Public Utility Commission on rural phone companies. Senator Phillips-Hill and Rep. Snyder discussed that it has become cost prohibitive for private companies to put up their own cell towers so PA should lease space on state-owned structures to ‘piggyback’ telecom equipment. These ideas are supported by the Grange.
Rep. Snyder pointed to an example of legislation that could be passed by the General Assembly. It would make it easier for communities to become their own ISP (Internet Service Provider) rather than continue to wait for telecommunications companies to provide that service.
Mr. Samara underscored the importance to target resources to the neediest areas. A possible funding solution has been suggested by the Pennsylvania State Grange. It would assess a nominal monthly fee on cell phones to develop a matching fund resource. It would be collected as a fee much like the 911 fee on land-line telephone service.
Ms. Hursh pointed to the work done by the Joint State Government Commission in developing what is called ‘The Broadband Report’. She said that the Broadband Report was based on non -biased consultation with an Advisory Committee tasked to prepare a working analysis of policy options as the General Assembly continues work on this issue. The Broadband Report was mandated by Senate adoption of Senate Resolution 47 which was sponsored by Senator Phillips-Hill. The Pennsylvania State Grange was the only agricultural organization chosen to be part of the Advisory Committee.
Panelists expressed appreciation of the work done by the Pennsylvania State Grange in keeping legislators focused on the need for universal access to high-speed Broadband. Noted by Senator Phillips-Hill, the General Assembly and the Administration need the Grange to continue this advocacy and stressed that Grange members must contact their legislators in order to make the additional progress that is needed now to occur.
Pennsylvania State Grange’s new Legislative Director, Carrie Nace, said that in her twenty-plus years of legislative experience, access to high-speed Broadband is one of the greatest challenges facing rural Pennsylvania in the 21st Century.
–Pennsylvania State Grange