Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration said Monday that it will make $35 million available to encourage telecommunications companies to extend high-speed internet service to areas of Pennsylvania that lack it.
Wolf's administration said it hopes to expand broadband internet to every part of Pennsylvania by the end of 2022.
The incentives are designed to be available ahead of a $2 billion Federal Communications Commission auction that subsidizes the build-out of broadband internet to unserved areas so that it helps private companies to bid more competitively in the FCC's auction by lowering the amount of federal funds needed for projects, the administration said.
Residents in sparsely populated areas say it is next to impossible to stream TV shows, telecommute, do videoconferencing or consistently access their cloud-based email. The FCC estimates that about 800,000 Pennsylvania residents lack access to high-speed internet access. About two-thirds are in rural areas while one-third is in urban areas.
However, 20 percent of rural Pennsylvanians do not have speedy internet connections, compared to 3 percent in urban areas, an example of the so-called digital divide between technological haves and have-nots.
Pennsylvania recently lost its bid to keep $140 million in federal subsidies for rural broadband after Verizon declined it two years ago.
The Wolf administration said the state Department of Transportation will use the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank to offer the incentives in exchange for dedicated or enhanced network services from private providers. That will help PennDOT improve network services along key roadways, the administration said.