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Erb backs broadband connections

Commissioner wants to increase access in region

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County Commissioner Bruce Erb is voicing his support for collaborative efforts to increase and improve broadband internet access.

During Thursday’s commissioners meeting, Erb spoke of steps taken.

“The commonwealth must develop partnerships among federal, state and local governments as well as the private sector to identify successful approaches and best practices that can remedy the problem,” Erb said when addressing a priority issue identified by the state County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

As for needed steps, Erb suggested:

Working with federal, state, local and private stakeholders for successful broadband expansion that maximizes resources and minimizes overbuild.

Partnering with higher education and research entities to leverage data, developing needed informational resources and building on technological innovations that aid in advancement of broadband infrastructure deployment and service provision.

Identifying funding resources and partnering with stakeholders to ensure deployment of resources are allocated to the areas of greatest need.

In mid-2021, after it was revealed that Blair County would receive $23.6 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to counter the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, commissioners spoke of devoting a significant portion of that allocation to expand broadband internet access.

So far, little of the $23.6 million has been spent, and no other priorities have been discussed.

“We have to wait for the plan to be developed,” Erb said in reference to a six-county regional study to identify fiber-optic internet projects for Blair, Bedford, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties.

In March, commissioners agreed to contribute $50,000 from ARP toward the projected $300,000 study to be completed by the Foresite Group of Birmingham, Ala.

“Our long-term goal,” Erb said, “is a fiber-optic network reaching as much of the county’s population and geography as possible.”

Erb also credited Alleghenies Broadband Inc., a nonprofit agency formed by the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission to focus on broadband development, for its pursuit of the contract with the Foresite Group.

He also referenced an Alleghenies Ahead comprehensive plan and Blair County’s comprehensive plan for identifying broadband internet access as a top priority, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Adequate and affordable broadband is critical to everyday functions of life, and with once-in-a-lifetime investment of funding for broadband development, county government stands ready to continue aiding in bridging the digital divide through stakeholder partnerships,” Erb said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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