March 21, 2021

Crawford County explores options for increased broadband access

published on The Titusville Herald
written by Staff

Members of the Crawford County Planning Commission are exploring options for developing a plan this spring to increase broadband access for county residents.

“The importance of high-speed internet access to underserved communities in Crawford County cannot be overstated,” said Crawford County Planning Director Zach Norwood. “This was already a priority issue for our area, but the effects of COVID-19 really amplified how critical it is for business, residents and our local schools to have a reliable internet connection.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established a download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speed of 3 Mbps as the standard for determining what qualifies as high-speed broadband.

Currently, Crawford County ranks as one of the lowest counties in the region with only 75% of households having access to internet service that meets the FCC standard per a September 2020 study by the Pennsylvania General Assembly Titled the “Delivery of High-Speed Broadband Services in Underserved Areas.”

“This has been an education process for everyone,” said Ron Mattocks, committee chairperson for the Planning Commission’s Planning Initiatives Committee, which has been charged with gathering the research to be used in the proposal.

Mattocks, whose own business, Bull Moose Marketing, relies heavily on the internet, explained that the federal government has been making more funds available for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Armstrong Cable to build out the infrastructure needed for rural broadband.

“The problem is that even with government funds, it’s still not cost-effective for them to run fiber-optic cable to outlying homes in places like Richmond Township,” he added, further noting it could take up to eight years for this to happen. “We can’t wait that long.”

The most visible need for broadband has been in the county’s school districts particularly those with students in rural areas.

“Students with limited internet access have suffered during the pandemic,” stated Planning Initiatives Committee member John Frye who has been talking with the school districts to assess the needs within each district. Frye, formerly the Titusville School District’s Director of Technology, pointed out that because of the pandemic, schools have had to rely on distance learning for their classes and it’s put students who do not have high-speed internet access at a disadvantage. Frye also noted that the need for high-speed broadband extends beyond just for students, but also includes those working remotely and those in need of telehealth services.

However, COVID-19 shouldn’t be the only driving force behind the county’s high-speed broadband initiative, according to fellow Planning Initiatives Committee member, Scott Sjolander.

Sjolander cited studies by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Rural Development which found that rural communities with reliable broadband internet tended to have higher property values, higher median incomes and increased job growth. “All things Crawford County really could benefit from,” he added.

The Planning Initiatives Committee has been gathering information on other broadband efforts in neighboring counties, as well as various logistics requirements and funding opportunities. According to Mattocks, “We want to develop a proposal that incorporates all broadband-related projects affecting the county so there’s no waste or duplication of effort.”

The Committee’s goal is to present their findings before the Crawford County Planning Commission at its regular meeting on March 22, before presenting a strategy to the County Board of Commissioners.

Those with an interest in the County’s broadband planning initiative can email the Committee at forms.monday.com/forms/9cbfaa99fdaf0dc0ddeddbd29bc2b788?r=use1.Interested parties should include details concerning the reasons behind their interest in the initiative, ways in which they can support these efforts, and, if known, information on other broadband-related projects affecting the county. The Committee is requesting that interested parties contact them by email before March 31.

Additionally, the public is invited to view a “story map” on this project available at: storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/a693885818f34005b189c2d8777295a5.

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