MERCER – Work funded by a state grant to help expand broadband coverage to underserved and unserved areas in Mercer County will take 18 months to finish.
The grant of $266,455 through the Commonwealth Finance Authority will go directly to Windstream Services LLC, which will construct infrastructure for unserved areas in northern Mercer County.
“So the wheels have started to turn, although it’ll seem like it’s not turning quickly enough to get people the service sooner rather than later,” Mercer County Commissioner Scott Boyd said.
Boyd said the total investment by Windstream will be $705,000 and will serve an additional 193 homes and businesses.
The project will bring fiber optic to 97 locations in Delaware Township, 23 in Fairview Township, 29 in Perry Township and 44 in Otter Creek Township.
“What’s interesting is we don’t have fiber optics in houses in the more-urbanized areas,” Commissioner Matt McConnell said. “So the townships will be leap-frogging over them.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced people to work and attend school classes from home, exposed the need for rural broadband coverage throughout Pennsylvania.
Commodore Perry School District Superintendent Kim Zippie said the district has a link on its school website for families to seek broadband hook-up through the county programs.
“It would be a benefit,” Zippie said.
During the pandemic, when students had to work from home, 57 families took advantage of portable hot spots supplied by the school. But, even with people trying to sign up for broadband, the district still had families who could not connect, and the hot spots did not work where they lived.
“We had hope, but as of right now there’s still three families so rural that it’s not working,” Zippie said.
When students in those three households need to work from home, they have to go low-tech, with pencil and paper, Zippie said.
Boyd said county officials had previously spoken with Windstream representatives about expanding the company’s service and that it had planned to run fiber-optic cables closer to the end user, raising internet speed over regular telephone connections.
The state recently created the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority to identify and map underserved and unserved areas to help present a need for federal funding, although Boyd said it may take the authority two years to get the necessary funds.
Boyd said commissioners are pleased with the project.
“We’re proud to see this progress being made at least,” Boyd said.
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