Senate approves Phillips-Hill’s broadband package

HARRISBURG – The Senate approved two reform measures aimed at cutting regulations and improving the state’s partnership to better deploy high-speed internet throughout the Commonwealth, according to Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), who sponsored the legislation.

“We have seen an incredible increase in our daily reliance on high-speed internet throughout the state. As the chair of the Senate Communications and Technology Committee, my goal has been to identify state solutions to this complex problem,” she said.

“After a series of public hearings, the committee identified three key pillars to addressing the digital divide: remove regulatory barriers, maximize existing assets and identify funding sources. This package of bills addresses all three of those needs,” she added.

Senate Bill 341 would remove regulatory barriers to broadband deployment for landline telecommunications providers. The legislation would update the Public Utility Code and require the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to waive certain regulations, review regulations every three years and eliminate those that are no longer necessary or in the public interest.

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Phillips-Hill’s legislation also addresses a major challenge to closing the digital divide – funding.

In 2019, the Wolf Administration entered into a $100 million, 20-year contract – with the option to renew the contract up to an additional 10 years – with an out-of-state company to inventory state-owned assets to expand broadband to unserved and underserved areas of Pennsylvania.

The state contract sends all revenue generated from leasing state-owned assets to various carriers into the state’s General Fund. Senate Bill 442 would pull the new revenue into a restricted account with one purpose: expand access to high-speed access.

The bill would also require state agencies to conduct an inventory of all state-owned assets to help with the further deployment of broadband. The bill also encourages counties to conduct their own inventory but does not mandate them to do so. Phillips-Hill argues that leveraging state-owned communication towers, poles, buildings and facilities across Pennsylvania could position high-speed broadband internet to unserved and underserved areas.

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“We know that getting more families and small businesses connected to high-speed internet will be a multi-pronged approach, and these bills are a critical part in achieving our goals,” Phillips-Hill said.

Both bills move to the House of Representatives for consideration.