Getting Connected: Venango County Falls Below State Average for Internet Access

| December 30, 2018

VENANGO CO. Pa. (EYT) – Living in the 21st century means navigating the wide world of the Internet, and Venango County still has some catching up to do on accessibility.

According to data from the United States Census Bureau, Venango County is still playing catch-up when it comes to the number of people with broadband Internet access. Data through the year 2017 shows that 72.9% of the households in the county reported having broadband service.

While Venango County falls below the overall state rate of 76.8%, the access rate in Venango County actually falls in the middle range among the surrounding counties. Venango County currently has a higher rate of access than both Forest County, which reported 60%, and Warren County, which reported 70%, and came in dead even with Crawford County at 72.9%. Nevertheless, it falls behind Clarion County, which reported 73.7%, Mercer County, which reported 73.2%, and Butler County, which reported 81.3%.

Like the rate in Butler County, the access rates in other more urban areas of the state also tend to be higher, with Erie County reporting at 76.4% and Allegheny County at 79%.

Pennsylvania, as a whole, falls below the surrounding states with the closest being Ohio with 77.1% of households reporting access to broadband service. New York reported a total of 78.9%, and both New Jersey and Maryland reported just over 82%.

So, where does this leave rural Pennsylvanians, and why is this important?

According to the Pennsylvania Office of Broadband Initiatives, the importance of broadband Internet access touches on three major aspects of people’s lives: business, education, and healthcare.

With the global economy moving further into the digital realm, access to dependable high-speed Internet will be essential to keeping local businesses competitive and operating efficiently.

In the realm of education, the Internet offers a wealth of learning opportunities, and without access, local students may be left behind their peers.

Healthcare is also advancing through digital technology by utilizing it to share records and data efficiently, while also using it to provide expanded options for in-home care.

“High-speed Internet access is essential to growing our economy, expanding educational opportunities for our children, increasing access to modern healthcare, and improving the safety of our communities,” stated Governor Tom Wolf earlier this year.

Venango County Commissioner Tim Brooks told, “We know that having access to broadband service is going to be a benefit to any business because so much business now is done through the Internet.”

“In terms of education, to have children who are learning have access to the Internet is an invaluable tool and something we need to strive for.”

“We have placed some 60 miles of fiber through the county that can be accessed in major areas for public safety. We can use that as a backbone to further develop into rural areas,” Brooks said.

“We want citizens in all areas to have access, and we know it will spur new business and spur out youth’s ability to learn about more than we have here in our county.”

Commissioner Brooks also noted that organizations like the Northwest Planning Commission and the Pennsylvania Office of Broadband Initiatives are all seeking ways to encourage broadband providers in rural areas like Venango County, while the county is also working toward creating avenues to additional access.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Initiative, a state-funded program, is striving to bridge the digital divide by providing high-speed Internet access to every household and business in the state.

The first phase of the program – dubbed the Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program – made $35 million in financial assistance available to private providers bidding on unserved areas in Pennsylvania, while also requiring the providers to exceed the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) requirements and to meet the governor’s goal of providing 100 Mbps (Megabits per second) or more service by June 30, 2022

The Office of Broadband Initiatives oversees the program but is also continuing to develop a longer-term approach to deliver service to additional areas.

“Ensuring broadband access to every Pennsylvanian is critically important to Pennsylvania’s future,” stated Mark Smith, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Office of Broadband Initiatives.

“Demand and reliance on broadband-related technologies will only continue to increase for our businesses, healthcare industry, students, and first responders.”

It is essential for Venango County, as well as surrounding areas, to find ways to invest in this critical piece of our infrastructure.

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