FCC Commissioner weighs in on PA’s digital divide at state Senate public roundtable

HARRISBURG – The Senate Communications and Technology Committee, chaired by Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), held a bipartisan discussion today with key stakeholders from across the state, representing various levels of government and entities dedicated to deploying and utilizing broadband in Pennsylvania.

The roundtable event featured Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr and Congressman Scott Perry (R-Cumberland/Dauphin/York), who outlined the federal response to internet connectivity challenges, as well as data security in the United States.

In his opening statement, Commissioner Carr noted that the focus of the FCC has been on closing the digital divide across the country.

“It is really hard to imagine that educating children, providing greater access to healthcare, and improving our economic competitiveness is accomplished without improving access to high-speed internet,” Carr said. 

“It takes this type of effort here: partnerships between federal, state and local level to get the job done,” he added.

The commissioner outlined how broadband cannot be treated like traditional utilities with overregulation.

“We want competition for internet and choice, which will incentivize mass investment,” he said, explaining how monopolies will not be beneficial to deploying high-speed internet in unserved and underserved areas.

Carr also pointed out that the migration toward telehealth is similar to what the nation witnessed when consumers shifted away from a brick-and-mortar option in Blockbuster Video to an internet-based streaming service in Netflix. The FCC realized the challenges presented with COVID-19 with patients visiting their doctors at healthcare facilities. 

The FCC saw a 20-30 percent increase in telehealth visits since March. In response, the FCC established an emergency COVID-19 telehealth program with $200 million to be doled out to the states.

“Pennsylvania, in particular, had 34 entities that were awarded a total of $9 million, one of the largest funding awards in the country,” Carr noted.

Carr and Perry highlighted that recent efforts to decrease the amount of outdated federal regulations led to a significant investment in expanding access to high-speed internet across the country and in Pennsylvania over the past year.

“Twenty-nine billion dollars were invested by carriers last year, the highest in a single year,” Carr said.

Carriers in the United States invested about 70 percent more than their counterparts in Europe, according to the FCC.

The FCC will also be rolling out the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund at the end of October.

“In Pennsylvania alone, we have identified 190,000 premises, including homes and small businesses, that have absolutely no internet service today,” Carr said.

He outlined how the FCC will be allocating over $700 million over the next 10 years to incentivize providers to build out high-speed internet access to those entities through a reverse auction process.

The roundtable included input from healthcare providers and educational leaders who highlighted the fact that the lack of access to high-speed internet is a challenge to reach patients and students, respectively.

Ryan Morcrette, who is the Senior Clinical Communications and Telehealth Specialist at St. Luke’s University Health Network, discussed the rise and importance in telehealth services for patients.

The General Assembly is in the process of advancing several key components to address the issue at the state level. The package includes the creation of a funding program to further deploy broadband, reducing regulatory burdens on telecommunications companies and utilizing existing infrastructure to further deploy high-speed internet.

The committee will continue to seek input and guidance from stakeholders as proposals advance to the governor’s desk, as well as assisting with the implementation of the overall legislative package.




Video of the entire roundtable, along with a list of all participants, can be found here.

Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) chairs a Senate Communications and Technology Committee public roundtable on broadband access at the state Capitol.

Congressman Scott Perry (R-Cumberland/Dauphin/York) addresses the Senate Communications and Technology Committee regarding federal efforts to close the digital divide during a public roundtable at the state Capitol.

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr provides an update on regulatory relief measures in order to more efficiently deploy broadband across the nation and in Pennsylvania during a Senate Communications and Technology Committee public roundtable at the state Capitol.