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County Hall Corner: Broadband or Bust

Lycoming County is the largest county in area in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, covering over 1,200 square miles. That is a larger area than the entire state of Massachusetts. But, unlike the Bay State, which has 6.8 million people living there, Lycoming County has about 114,000 residents. Though this figures out to a population density

Lycoming County is the largest county in area in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, covering over 1,200 square miles. That is a larger area than the entire state of Massachusetts. But, unlike the Bay State, which has 6.8 million people living there, Lycoming County has about 114,000 residents. Though this figures out to a population density of 95 persons per square mile in the county, that number is very deceiving. Half of the county’s population resides in the greater Williamsport area (city of Williamsport and the residing townships of Loyalsock and Old Lycoming and the boroughs of Montoursville and South Williamsport), which covers about 45 square miles. So, taking greater Williamsport out of the equation, the rest of the county averages around two (2!) people per square mile.

Anyone who has traveled to the northern tier townships of Brown, Jackson, Pine, McHenry, etc., know that they are beautifully picturesque, but also very sparsely populated. Those choosing to live in these very rural areas face far fewer services than those who live in greater Williamsport, but none more acute than the limited use of broadband internet service.

Not unlike the early days of the 20th century, when electricity and phone service kept these rural areas unable to keep up with the progress of the rest of the country, the lack of accessibility to broadband internet likewise saddles these areas with a handicap to the services that are increasingly becoming necessities in the 21st century. The problem back then is the same problem as today — money. It is not cost effective for companies to invest in supplying remote areas with internet services because there is not a large enough customer base to make it worth it.

Congressman Tom Marino has an idea about that. He represents Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, which includes Lycoming County, but also other rural counties like Bradford, Sullivan, Pike, and Perry. He has introduced legislation to aid in deploying rural broadband along with PA Congressman Lou Barletta, Alabama Congressman Ralph Abraham, and Michigan Congressman Jack Bergman. This proposal, H.R. 6871, the Rural Broadband Connectivity Act, is designed to incentivize more private investment in broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas through tax credits to those companies that would provide service to rural areas.

It is impossible to describe how important this legislation is to the future development of Lycoming County as well as other such rural counties in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country. The FCC estimates that 24 million people in the US don’t have access to broadband internet. This goes far beyond the inconvenience of not being able to get Netflix.

In August, a roundtable on the issue was held at Mansfield University, and input was received from almost twenty different stakeholders. The concerns ranged from Mansfield University instructors who state their students cannot complete assignments at home because they do not have adequate internet, to USDA and PA Farm Bureau officials who note that our agricultural industry is falling behind other parts of the country because many of our farmers cannot take advantage of precision equipment that requires an internet connection.

In proposing this legislation, Congressman Marino remarked, “More connectivity means better living standards that will provide modern teleworking, telemedicine, digital learning, and allow our agricultural producers access to innovation that will benefit them in the fields.” In short, this helps all of us in the end.

To support this legislation, you can contact Congressman Marino at his Williamsport office at 1020 Commerce Park Drive, Suite 1A, Williamsport, PA 17701, Tel: 570-322-3961, Fax: 570-322-3965, or if you have internet, (no joke intended here), you can go to https://marino.house.gov/contact.

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