Pa. universal internet law needs update (editorial) – York Daily Record/Sunday News
Shera Peck has researched internet options for her rural home in Fawn Township, but can’t get DSL, cable or satellite internet to work there.
Chris Dunn, York Daily Record
It’s hard to imagine anyone lacking access to broadband internet service nowadays.
The internet, for good or ill, has become a nearly essential utility, touching just about every aspect of our lives, from communications to commerce.
The web hasn’t really changed how teachers approach their jobs, but it has changed some of the means they use to instruct students, replacing backboards with Chromebooks and tablets with, well, tablets.
Yet in some areas of York County â and Pennsylvania, and the country, for that matter â access to broadband service is lacking. Now, that may seem like a first-world problem, and to some extent it is, but for many parents and students, it can stifle their educations, making, at the very least, keeping up with their classmates inconvenient.
The vast majority of York County has access to broadband services, whether it’s DSL or cable or satellite, but some of York County’s more rural areas are shut out, forcing parents and students to take sometimes extreme measures to get connected.
That’s despite a 2004 state mandate for telecommunications companies to ensure that broadband service is universally available. Obviously, it isn’t. And since 2004, the notion of what constitutes high-speed internet has changed. The law should be updated, something that state Rep. Kristen Phillips Hill, R-York Township, has taken up.
According to the state Department of Economic and Community Development, pockets of rural southern York County are shut out when it comes to high-speed internet access. U.S. Census data from 2015 shows that 4 percent of the county’s population has access to broadband only through phones or a mobile hot spot. That’s better than the national average of 6 percent, but it is still significant.
This effects a variety of aspects of rural life, from farmers being unable to quickly access current market information or to shop around for the best prices on equipment or commodities, to students being unable to do their homework at home. It’s about much more than being able to watch a viral video of a cat playing the piano.
In parts of southern York County, parents only have access to high-speed internet service through their smart phones, the most expensive access to the web. Once they burn through their monthly data allowance, the fees add up quickly. Other parents have taken to driving to the school after hours and sitting in the parking lot while their children access the school’s wi-fi network. Others have taken to having their kids do their homework at businesses or restaurants that offer wi-fi service. (Delta Pizza is among them, and owner Sal Ferranti deserves credit for being more than accommodating, allowing kids to do homework at his restaurant without having to make a purchase.)
But speaking broadly, this situation is unacceptable.
Access to broadband internet service is quickly becoming essential, covering so many aspects of our daily existence, from work, to leisure, to commerce and to education.
The state Legislature knew that in 2004, when it passed Act 183, which set a deadline for the state’s telecommunications companies to provide universal access to high-speed internet service. Apparently, in some parts of the state, that deadline has passed and some still remain without access to the service.
For students at rural districts to be on a level playing field with their classmates, and students from suburban or urban districts, access to broadband is vital.
As Rona Kauffman, superintendent of the South Eastern School District, said, “It’s an issue of equity.”