Butler County to host broadband summit
The state of broadband across a 10-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania, including Butler County, will be the topic of an event Thursday in Cranberry Township.
The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) is hosting a Regional Broadband Summit from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Regional Learning Alliance Learning and Conference Center, 850 Cranberry Woods Dr.
“The hope would be that we all walk away with better ideas of how to implement the plan within our own counties and municipalities,” said Leslie Osche, Butler County commissioner and chairman for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. “And what it’s going to take to get that done.”
This event is intended to educate attendees about the state of the region’s connectivity, community funding opportunities, available resources and more.
County and local government officials, nonprofits, school district leaders, local internet service providers, telecommunications companies and members of the public are expected to attend. The event is at capacity.
As chairman of the commission, Osche said the group had already conducted a large study on broadband accessibility and deployment. The report from this study was issued long before federal initiatives to support broadband were enacted.
“At this juncture, the SPC felt it was important — since it liaisons with local governments — to bring everyone together,” Osche said. “With the idea of making sure there was full education on what the state of the region is with broadband.”
This, she explained, was the purpose of the Regional Broadband Summit.
“It’s to talk about what the study looked at, what the surveys call for and what the whole concept of broadband access and equity means or looks like,” Osche said. “To try to help all of our local governments understand how to work not only with the communication providers but together, collaboratively, to expand broadband into the areas where people do not have access.”
The first panel at the summit will give an overview of that accessibility in the region. Talks will center on the commission’s survey as well as successful projects in other counties.
“Greene County, for instance, will be featured,” Osche said. “Looking at how they implemented several broadband projects in Greene County.”
The second panel will include the Broadband Cable Association, the County Commissioners Association and state Rep. Nick Pisciottano, D-38th, discussing legislation for broadband deployment.
“Then, there’s a whole session on Internet Funding for All,” Osche said, “which will look at, I’m presuming, a lot of the programs that will be available to make it affordable.”
Osche also explained that local internet service providers, including Armstrong and Comcast, will be present during the discussions.
“Then, the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority will talk about statewide implementation and what we can all expect,” Osche said.
She is optimistic that the summit will help clarify some of the challenges facing the county.
“I think what we’re trying to understand is, while we had some money still set aside for purposes of broadband in our ARPA funds, how do we make that money go the farthest?” she said.
While counties with relatively widespread inaccessibility can tackle the problem head-on, Butler County’s regions are what Osche calls “patchy.”
“Whereas, if you’re in a county that has a broad swath with no coverage, it makes it a little easier to put a project together,” Osche said. “For us, it’s a little more complicated — we have patchy areas versus a nice large area to look at it.”
The solution, according to Osche, is in better understanding how the county engages with communications providers, funding and other municipalities.
“I’m just grateful that we have the commission in play that can build that expertise, bring in the consultants that helped formulate the plan and provide us with the tools we need as local governments to get this done,” she said.
Joe Taylor, vice president of the Armstrong Group of Companies, said the summit was an exciting opportunity for the county, the country and internet service providers.
“The pandemic kind of highlighted the need for broadband as people were forced to work remotely and students were required to do their lessons at home,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, rural communities in Butler County are often hit the hardest by inaccessibility.
“We’ve been serving these areas for many, many years in Butler County, and on a fairly regular basis we continue to expand our network, but there are some areas that are ... cost prohibitive to serve,” Taylor said. “We’re certainly hopeful and optimistic that these programs and grants and subsidies from the government can help us reach those unserved areas.”
While Armstrong will not participate directly in the summit, they will be represented by the Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania during panel discussions. Armstrong is one of the event’s sponsors.
“As a provider in Butler County, and as a broadband company with its headquarters here for over 60 years, we were anxious to help and participate,” Taylor said.
The summit will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry Township.
Breakfast and lunch are provided.
The event will also be live-streamed via the commission’s YouTube channel.
For more information, visit the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission’s website at www.spcregion.org.