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Wolf visits Bellefonte school, touts $100M from Internet for All

BELLEFONTE — Governor Tom Wolf visited Marion-Walker Elementary School on Wednesday to highlight how millions in federal funds could help bring internet access to rural schools and communities across Pennsylvania.

​The commonwealth is set to receive $100 million as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All Initiative. The recently-announced initiative will help build internet infrastructure, provide technology and teach ​skills to ensure all Pennsylvanians have comprehensive online access, Wolf said.

“Broadband is essential in today’s society,” he said. “This is as important as electricity and water. Our lack of consistent affordable quality statewide broadband keeps children learning efficiently and effectively online. … It prevents businesses from growing, it limits job margins for workers and it reduces medical care options open to patients all across the state.”

Joy Miller, a school psychologist for the Bellefonte Area School District, has experienced firsthand the ​impact unreliable internet access can have on students,

parents and teachers. Miller’s family has been negatively impacted by an inability to connect to remote ​learning programs and telehealth visits with physicians.

“As the years went on, the pandemic hit and all of a sudden we had three of us trying to do school at home and then also working from home,” Miller said. “There is not only a consistency and reliability issue, but also speed.”

There are ​more than 219,000 households in Pennsylvania without internet access and 178,000 households without a computer, Kyle Kopko, executive director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, said.

The governor was joined at Marion-Walker by Jed Kolko, under secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce, who stressed that ​internet access is vital for businesses, students, families and communities. The program will not only create thousands of jobs but also open up the possibility of remote work ​for people in rural areas, Kolko said.

“High-speed internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Kolko said. “And we learned during the pandemic that for many it’s not just a necessity, it is also a lifeline.”

Pennsylvania is one of 34 states supporting the initiative, said Kolko​, who has urged other states to sign on to the program.

“Every state with an approved plan will receive a minimum of $100 million and the rest will be divided by need,” Kolko said. “That means in the end, for most states, the final award could be a much larger than $100 million, perhaps even as much as $1 billion in total.”

​Wolf said providing Pennsylvanians will high-speed internet access has been a ​priority of his administration and that these investments will help economic development across the state.

“It’s going to open up a whole world of new opportunities for all of us, helping students learn, helping employees work and it helps businesses grow for all Pennsylvanians to thrive,” Wolf said. “Most importantly, this money is going to put our commonwealth on a path to a much brighter future.”

Tammie Burnaford, the district superintendent, said Marion-Walker was a perfect place to talk about broadband issues, as access has been a challenge for the district. The experience was also important for fourth and fifth graders who attended the governor’s speech, as they’re learning about federal and state government in their classes.

“It’s such an honor, it’s an absolute honor for us to be able to host him and to be part of these discussions,” Burnaford said. “It a once in a lifetime opportunity for our kids and for our staff and for our district.”

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