HARRISBURG – Working to bring much-needed broadband internet service to the state’s most rural communities, the House has approved legislation authored by Reps. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter) and George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) that would create a grant program to boost investment in the service.
“Reliable, high-speed internet service is not a luxury; it is a necessity,” Causer said. “Our students and teachers need it to improve educational opportunities, especially if we have to deal with another situation like the COVID-19 pandemic that shut schools down. Our businesses also need it to be competitive and better serve their customers. And our doctors and patients need it to improve access to health care.”
House Bill 2348
would create the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program and fund it, in part, by repealing the Mobile Telecommunications Broadband Investment Tax Credit. This credit is currently limited to $5 million per year and is available to mobile telecommunication providers to invest in broadband equipment in Pennsylvania. Under the bill, the $5 million would instead be directed toward a grant program.
“Tax credits are supposed to help generate investments that wouldn’t otherwise be made, but a review of this tax credit by the nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office showed as much as 90% of the spending would have occurred anyway,” said Dunbar, who serves as vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We need to make this funding work better for our rural communities so they can get the broadband service and support they need.”
Under the bill, the grant program would be administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.Along with the $5 million appropriation called for in the bill, additional state and federal funding could be directed to the account and used for grant awards.
Entities eligible for grants would include nongovernmental entities with the technical, managerial and financial expertise to design, build and operate high-speed broadband service infrastructure within this Commonwealth; and rural electric cooperatives or local development districts in the Commonwealth. Any nongovernmental entity that qualifies for a grant would have to invest from its own funds at least 25% of the project cost.
Preference would be given to projects in the most unserved areas of the Commonwealth as defined by the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum speed requirements and to projects that already have federal funding allocated to them.
The House also approved House Bill 2438, which would allow rural electric cooperatives to use their existing infrastructure to deploy fiber lines for broadband service. Both bills now go to the Senate for consideration.
Representative Martin T. Causer
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Patricia A. Hippler