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Internet progress too slow

Despite movement in Harrisburg in recent days regarding Pennsylvania’s anemic access to high-speed internet, commonwealth residents need to accept the reality that major progress on behalf of expanded service won’t be achieved quickly.

The deficiency is too mammoth. Too many people currently are being under-served, and many people have no access whatsoever.

That is unconscionable for a state that touts itself as a great place to live and do business.

Anyone who tries to promote false hope about a quick, easy resolution regarding the problem should be likened to the proverbial snake oil salesman. Just getting the Legislature to deal with the issue proactively hasn’t been easy.

That said, perhaps a broadband-related study conducted by a team of Penn State University researchers, whose findings were released on June 3 by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, will provide the needed incentive — indeed, the shame — for aggressive remedial action to commence finally on behalf of many of the state’s 3.4 million rural residents.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, which sponsored the study, identifies itself as “a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly.”

While conducting the study last year, the Penn State researchers collected more than 11 million broadband speed tests from across the state. The findings were eye-opening for researchers, and they provide ample evidence for rural residents to demand that the situation be addressed aggressively.

The most important finding: In not one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties — and that includes predominantly urban counties — do at least half of the residents receive broadband connectivity defined by the Federal Communications Commission as 25 megabits download speed and 3 megabits upload speed.

That prompted CRP to observe that the FCC’s estimate that 800,000 state residents do not have access to broadband connectivity is in fact a lowball figure.

The news and information service Capitolwire, in an article published in the Mirror’s June 5 edition, noted that “according to the study, the discrepancy between the actual speeds seen in test data and the self-reported speeds to the FCC has grown dramatically during the past five years for rural communities.”

According to the study, the FCC’s estimate doesn’t reflect the scope of the problem because the federal agency relies on self-reported data by internet service companies, and that implies that some companies might not be providing a true picture of the service they provide — or that the FCC isn’t very good sometimes at compiling estimates.

While there’s a move underway in the General Assembly aimed at addressing the anemic service, a big question is whether that initiative will become bogged down along the legislative path, as so many other measures do.

But the Senate seems to be on the right track.

There’s support in the upper legislative chamber for tasking a new commission with finding solutions to the problem, and another plan proposes that an investigation be conducted regarding compliance of telecommunications carriers with current broadband-related rules. There’s also a bill in the Senate related to conducting an inventory of state-owned assets capable of assisting with expanding broadband access.

Those are steps long overdue.

The lack of high-speed internet is negatively impacting individual adults, companies, farms, students — virtually all aspects of the state.

That “anemia” must be cured, but it won’t happen soon enough.

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