Broadband Access to be a Top Priority for County in 2022

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WARREN, Pa. – Warren County Commissioner Ben Kafferlin has been a major driver behind a broadband initiative for Warren County and in an interview Monday he reiterated the importance of broadband access for county residents.

Kafferlin said expanding access to broadband and/or high-speed internet is “one of four main focuses for 2022” as the commissioners prepare for next week’s “State of the County” address.

“The county has been working with Penn State Extension in order to identify the highest need areas, which is complete,” Kafferlin said in a sit down with YourDailyLocal. “We now know where our greatest needs are in terms of either insufficient high-speed internet or none.”

This comes on the heels of Lt. Governor John Fetterman saying that he considers broadband a “fundamental utility” and something he would make a priority if elected to the U.S. Senate during a campaign stop in Warren on Saturday, Feb. 12.

The other three main focuses will be laid out during next Wednesday’s (Feb. 23) meeting.

Kafferlin emphasized that the county’s IT department has been working with several different internet service providers.

“I believe Verizon, definitely Atlantic Broadband, Youngsville TV and Mobilcom,” he said. “They have been working together. The IT department has been working with each one of them to come up with individual plans. They’re trying to find where our priorities match up with their abilities to expand broadband capacity.”

Kafferlin stressed that it wouldn’t fix everything for everyone, but is encouraged by how many county residents it would impact.

“The last thing I saw was basically the ability to serve 70 percent of county homes,” he said. “That’s the last number I heard. That’s pretty encouraging. I would expect to learn more probably in about a month.”

Kafferlin, a Republican, and Fetterman, a Democrat both understand the importance of broadband access.

“Without good broadband, you don’t have the access to healthcare that you deserve in counties like Warren and McKean, and others.,” Fetterman said during his address on Saturday. “You can’t do telemedicine if your broadband is terrible. You don’t have the ability to work from home the way you would in an urban area.

The county has $7.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and has planned on earmarking some of that money on broadband, but that could change if they can use Federal Infrastructure Bill funds instead.

“If we can get the feds to pay for it through the Infrastructure Bill instead, then we might be able to make more of an impact, either get more people covered or the same amount of people covered without using the ARPA money so we can use the ARPA money for other things,” Kafferlin said. “So that’s why we’re in a little bit of a holding pattern. We wouldn’t want to spend it and then find that we could have gotten it through a grant.”

Kafferlin said the expanded delivery would have come in a variety of ways.

“There is no one silver bullet,” he said. “Some would be fiber to the home, some would be wireless.”