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Federal Infrastructure Bill Could Bring Better Internet To Pennsylvania

Elaine Thompson

The federal government soon could invest $65 billion in broadband internet expansion across the country, drawing on funding included in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed earlier this week by the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of suburban Pittsburgh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves touted the legislation with other officials on Wednesday at a roundtable discussion at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District.

Most major U.S. cities have some level of broadband access these days, Graves said.

“But the challenge is [that] too many of the folks who live in the communities can’t afford to get access to that broadband. Or if they do, it’s very limited,” he said.

Connectivity problems are not isolated to rural areas, said Graves. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 84.7 percent of households in Pennsylvania’s urban areas have a broadband internet subscription, as do 81.8 percent of households in rural areas across the state.

Participants in the discussion also noted that Black and Latino households are less likely to have internet access. Making internet access more affordable will be key to reducing those disparities, they said. Universal broadband is a “top priority” for the Department of Commerce, Graves said.

The infrastructure bill would provide states with grants to pay for internet improvements and offer discounts to low-income families.

Doyle, a Democrat from Forest Hills, has long been an advocate for expanded internet access. He said the money in the bill is a “historic investment” in internet infrastructure, and it should go towards projects that will adapt to future needs and make internet access more affordable.

“We want to design it such that it’s future-forward,” he said. Instead of relying on what works now, he said, “We can build an infrastructure that would allow not only 5G, but 6G and 7G and 8G when that comes.”

The money is a “one-shot deal,” Doyle added, saying that this kind of funding likely won’t be allocated again soon.

Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.