The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is encouraging residents, businesses, local leaders and other concerned parties – especially in rural communities – to contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of efforts to preserve nearly $140 million in funding intended to increase access to high speed internet service in underserved areas in Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, the PUC and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) filed a joint petition with the FCC as part of an ongoing effort to address Pennsylvania’s “digital divide” by preserving millions of dollars in federal funding intended to increase access to high speed internet service in rural communities across the Commonwealth.
Funding for the Connect America Fund Phase II program (CAF II) is drawn from the federal universal service surcharges paid by state residents and businesses. It is intended to support the deployment of broadband service in high-cost areas, including many rural communities. Most incumbent local telephone companies serving Pennsylvania’s high-cost areas accepted the CAF II funding, along with the commitment to meet federal benchmarks for broadband speed (10 Mbps download & 1 Mbps upload), but the Verizon companies did not, jeopardizing the continued availability of millions of dollars in broadband support throughout Pennsylvania. While this funding is currently only available to regulated utilities, there are other internet providers in the region willing to work with communities and businesses. The Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to state legislators in June asking for more flexibility in how these dollars can be allocated to expand broadband in rural areas.
“The FCC plans to conduct an auction to allocate the broadband funding that was not accepted by Verizon, and the PUC has been encouraging all concerned parties to work together to keep these dollars in our state,” said PUC Commissioner David W. Sweet. “We remain hopeful that the FCC will consider the joint petition by the PUC and DCED to approve a Pennsylvania-specific weighting factor to the upcoming CAF II auction.”
Information regarding how to submit comments electronically or by mail to the FCC on this issue is available on the PUC’s website.
Additionally, the Commission continues to encourage state and local leaders to continue exploring mechanisms to enhance financial support for rural broadband projects – which could help influence the FCC’s decision about where funds should be directed.