Whether its access to education, healthcare, work, family and friends, job searches or even applying for government assistance programs, people need the internet to participate in modern society. To remain competitive, communities need to ensure infrastructure is in place to provide broadband access to all residents.
Broadband is delivered either by wireless or wired connections. Recently cell phone access has greatly expanded, but gaps still remain and too many in our community rely on cell phones as their only access to the internet. Fiber-optic cable is the ideal infrastructure to carry broadband. Fiber has the longest service life, greatest speed capacity and lowest maintenance needs of any existing technology. Due to the high cost of fiber buildouts, the private sector alone has yet to deploy “fiber to the premise” across Lancaster County. While an ultimate goal may be ubiquitous fiber, like many communities, we will likely need to start by deploying multiple technologies to provide stronger service quickly, allowing more time for fiber to be built out.
There are three primary challenges in deploying broadband universally across Lancaster County:
Access – There is simply not the infrastructure to access high speed internet, especially in rural areas. Phone line connections (DSL) are no longer adequate to meet individual or business needs and the cost to install coax cable or fiber can’t be justified for a private business serving few customers.
Affordability – Even where infrastructure barriers don’t exist, adequate broadband plans aren’t affordable for all Lancaster County residents. Affordability challenges can include access to hardware and devices that can reliably access the internet.
Adoption – It is often taken for granted that everyone knows how to access the internet and use it safely. Many in Lancaster County are limited by a fear of technology, limited exposure to technology or they just don’t know how to access the internet.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted broadband gaps nationally, although this issue existed well before 2020. Communities around the country, including several of our neighboring counties in Central PA, are developing local solutions to expand broadband infrastructure. At the same time, there is significant funding on the way to help communities invest in these projects. If we don’t act now, we risk being left behind.
Current state of Lancaster County
Broadband is handled differently across the country. In Pennsylvania, there is no single regulatory or administrative body handling broadband. Solutions are generated at a community level, often as public- private partnerships, and require both strategic leadership and technical proficiency.
In Lancaster County, like other communities, we know there are notable gaps in service, especially in rural areas. Where there is service, weak competition can’t control cost or improve service. Despite these known challenges, there are significant fiber assets already in the ground and partners in several key industries with significant expertise.
EDC and the Lancaster STEM Alliance are now leading an effort to create a county-wide broadband strategy. We have partnered with a national consultant to help create a local strategy including the technologies, funding tools, partners and a business plan to deliver county-wide broadband access. We expect the planning and analysis process to be completed by late 2021 or early 2022.
How can I help?
Right now, we are gathering information and connecting with stakeholders. We want to hear from you if:
- You are a business owner or leader who is currently or has experienced broadband challenges in the past.
- You are an internet service provider.
- You work with vulnerable populations that could benefit from strengthened internet utilization.
Please contact Ezra Rothman at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the work being done.
Updated: May 2021