HARRISBURG, Pa. — These days the real world revolves around the virtual world online. From education to the workplace, from shopping to gaming, broadband internet is a crucial part of modern life.
Still, hundreds of thousands in Pennsylvania don't have access.
The FCC classifies up to 800,000 Pennsylvanians as 'unserved.' It means, if they do have internet at all, their connection speeds are too slow to perform most tasks. It's a problem for people and businesses.
"If you want to be a competitor in the global economy, you're going to need to have broadband internet access," said Kyle Kopko, executive director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. "If you don't have good quality internet, you're going to be at a severe disadvantage."
Kopko said the issue has been playing out in the state's smallest municipalities for years, but there are signs of hope.
On Thursday, Governor Wolf announced the Commonwealth will receive $6.6 million in federal grants as part of President Biden's Internet for All plan.
"This is going to help a lot of communities, particularly in the most sparsely populated areas, that just haven't been able to get cable, fiber, or fixed wireless," Kopko said.
The federal funding will be managed by the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority, which is expected to receive more than $100 million in the coming years.
The first millions will be used to fund planning and develop infrastructure, while helping teach people who are unfamiliar with the internet.
"If someone can't properly use a device, if they can't set up a network, if they can't afford broadband connectivity, everything else in terms of infrastructure is for not," Kopko said.
The new funding comes as other states look to improve internet reliability as well, meaning necessary resources could be limited.
"There's going to be a broadband buildout all across the country, not just Pennsylvania," Kopko said. "We're going to have to understand those constraints and we're going to be competing with other states in these buildout efforts."
Kopko suggests people log on to the FCC's broadband maps site to make sure it has accurate connection stats for where they live. Those maps will be used to determine future funding.