Senate approves landmark bipartisan broadband legislation

HARRISBURG – Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) applauded the Senate’s unanimous passage of legislation creating the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA) that will establish a single point-of-contact for broadband funding in the Commonwealth and drive out federal tax dollars to eligible projects to close the digital divide.

The legislation will handle the recently approved federal infrastructure taxpayer dollars aimed at improving access to high-speed internet in unserved and underserved communities.

“Taxpayers do not care if it’s federal funding, state funding, or local funding – it all comes out of one wallet,” Phillips-Hill said. “Decisions were made at the federal level to provide this funding, so it is the duty of the General Assembly to ensure that every dollar allocated for this problem is spent for its intended purposes and not wasted on boondoggles that simply do not close our digital divide.”

The PBDA will be governed by 11 members, including five individuals representing both political parties of the Senate and House, as well as the governor. Subcommittees consisting of experts within the field may also be created.

The priority for the PBDA is to create a broadband plan that allows the state to apply for competitively awarded federal infrastructure money. The bill also requires the state to create a database to monitor all broadband deployment activities across the state. Entities that are eligible for funding must have technical, managerial and financial expertise to design, build and operate high-speed service infrastructure. Furthermore, contractors that have defaulted on prior projects or have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the last 10 years due to their past performance will not be eligible for funding.

Under the plan, the PBDA will dissolve within 10 years or when all federal funds are exhausted.

“The parameters in this bill will ensure that contractors with a proven track record of deploying high-speed internet are selected, as well as ensure strong oversight by the duly elected Auditor General, and most importantly, showing the public how their money is being spent to address this problem,” she said.

“I applaud the bipartisan collaboration throughout this process as it shows that regardless of political party or region of the state you represent, every legislator is dealing with internet connectivity challenges in their district,” she added.

The legislation heads back to the House of Representatives for a concurrence vote before going to the governor’s desk for his signature.

AUDIO

Background: 

Sen. Phillips-Hill recently hosted Rep. Martin Causer and Rep. Clint Owlett on her podcast to outline the bipartisan process that led to the introduction of House Bill 2071. You can listen to the podcast episode here (20 minutes).

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