April 14, 2014
APeter Held doesn't know how much he and his wife, Patti, pay each month for both DSL and cable modem high-speed Internet service. But it's not much, and it's reliable enough that he doesn't give it much thought. That's just how he likes it. As the co-owners of Software Touch Corp., reliable high-speed Internet service isn't a luxury. "It's a huge priority," Held said. "Because we need it -- we live online -- we pay for both DSL and cable. If one goes down we switch to the other. That's how important it is." But it wasn't always that simple.
In 2004, after moving to the (northwestern Pennsylvania) area from Minnesota, the couple found themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, forced to pay more than $600 a month to receive Internet service over a T1 line. A decade later, the goal of providing high-speed Internet service to every corner of the nation hasn't yet been realized. There are still places -- like Childress, Texas, and Daggett, Utah -- where broadband service remains virtually nonexistent, according to the National Broadband Map, produced jointly by the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
For the most part, though, the United States -- northwestern Pennsylvania included -- has come a long way since universal broadband service became a popular public priority early last decade. In 2003, just 15 percent of the U.S. population had access to broadband Internet through wired services, including DSL, cable modem or fiber optics, according to the FCC. By June 2013, the National Broadband Map showed 93 percent of Americans had access to wired broadband, while 98 percent had access to either wired or wireless service. However, access to broadband service is one thing. Making use of that access is another.
A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found that about 70 percent of all Americans actually have broadband service in their homes. Interviews conducted as part of that study found that many who don't pay for the service continued to list the price as a reason why. The evidence continues to build, however, that we're moving toward the finish line of building an infrastructure that meets at least the minimum qualifications for broadband, generally defined as speeds above 200,000 or sometimes 300,000 bits per second.
U.S. Rep Mike Kelly, of Butler, R-3rd Dist., said in a statement that he's encouraged by the progress "we've seen in growing our nation's broadband infrastructure as we work to diminish the digital divide." But neither Kelly nor anyone in the White House is suggesting the job is complete. "It is crucial that we continue making strides to provide our rural regions with access to affordable phone and broadband service," Kelly said.
Erie County is poised to make a significant stride soon. "By the end of 2015, we will be providing broadband to 100 percent of our (Erie County) customers," said Lee Gierczynski, a spokesman for Verizon Communications. The work has been accelerated under Chapter 30 of the Public Utility Code, which requires Verizon to implement broadband by an earlier date in exchange for entering into an alternate regulatory agreement. Despite all that progress, plenty of unserved geography remains, some of it in our own backyard.
Ask Gregg Major, owner of Sunny Valley Garage, near Springboro in Crawford County. For Major, who relies on high-speed Internet to power a subscription service that provides technical bulletins and online repair manuals, high-speed Internet has become an essential tool -- as important as a torque wrench or screwdriver. But Major finds himself in much the same spot the Helds were in a decade ago -- without a hard-wired provider of broadband to meet his needs.
Windstream Communications, his telephone company, tells him he should have DSL within a few months. For now, he's making do with a Verizon smart phone that he's able to use as an Internet hot spot. It's a less-than-perfect solution. "Sometimes it's OK. Sometimes it's not," he said.
Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper said she's pleased to see how much progress has been made toward making broadband service available to anyone. Dahlkemper, who served in the U.S. House from 2009 to 2011, is inclined to give some of the credit to stimulus spending that pumped millions into infrastructure. But like Kelly, she maintains that providing service to almost everyone isn't good enough. Unserved areas will remain at a distinct disadvantage. "You can't do business in this world without that type of connection," she said. "But you can work from anywhere if you have it." Erie Times-News
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum is traveling to South Carolina for several Republican Party events. The Pennsylvania Republican plans to be in Charleston on Monday to give a keynote address at a lunch meeting of the Charleston County Republican Women. Later that day, he is planning to attend a meeting of the Charleston County Republican Committee at North Charleston City Hall. Santorum's office says he will also be attending private fundraisers in Charleston and Columbia and meeting with grassroots activists and political leaders. Associated Press
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