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Housing market affected by broadband accessibility

Bridging the Digital Divide

This is one in a series of articles about broadband accessibility in Butler County.

About 5% of the housing sold by the Heidi & Sadler Priest Team at eXp Realty in Butler might not have high-speed internet options, but slower alternatives are sufficient for somtimes for some clients, according to Sadler Priest.

But just like accessibility to water and sewer service, broadband accessibility can affect the potential sale of houses.

The lack of high-speed internet can deter some buyers, Sadler Priest said.

“Especially for specific clients,” Priest said. “Some people work from home. I’ve had them say ‘I need high-speed, blazing internet.’”

Alternatives

Priest said for clients buying in remote locations where Armstrong’s internet service is not available, there are some alternatives. He said many clients use a satellite relay, in which an antenna provides an internet connection via a satellite.

“I heard of some fiber optics coming in, but that’s a ways out,” Priest said. “But there’s typically internet available in some form for everyone these days.”

He said some people in rural areas also use Dish Network for internet service.

“I think everyone is mostly covered up in the northern part of the county, but it might not be high speed,” Priest said.

He said he knows of people who have had problems with conventional internet services in rural areas and moved to a satellite connections.

“Better technology is coming,” Priest said, “It’s just slow-moving.”

Spotty service

Debbie Macurak, a Realtor at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Center Township, has sold homes all over the county, but mainly focuses on municipalities in the northeastern corner.

She said Petrolia, Bruin and rural areas outside Karns City have no internet service.

“Some people have a booster system through Verizon, but even Verizon is spotty,” Macurak said.

She knows of one woman who has begged Armstrong to extend service into her area.

“If the kids have virtual (school) days, she said, it’s really challenging,” Macurak said. “We definitely need more options.”

When showing a property, service often is on the minds of potential buyers before they even go inside.

“Lots of times, it’s the first thing people ask you or they pull out their phone to see if they have service,” Macurak said. “It’s a very challenging area.”

She also wonders why more cell towers are not placed near Route 38, given its traffic.

“I try to have a conversation on the way from home to Butler, and the call will drop five times,” Macurak said.

She said the if the current government effort to expand broadband into rural areas is successful, it would make her job much easier.

“It would also make it easier to work from home,” Macurak said.

Her partner at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Sandy Bracken, also sells homes in the rural part of the county.

“Internet service is definitely an issue,” Bracken said. “I work with a lot of buyers who work from home, and they need to have internet.”

Armstrong, Comcast and Kinetic by Windstream are the three broadband and fiber optics internet providers she is aware of in her territory.

She always tries to ascertain any available internet providers for each home she sells, but recommends some potential buyers do the research on internet access.

“We try to know what’s available in each area,” Bracken said. “That’s part of our job, but if somebody depends on it for work, I tell them to check on it to make sure, because I don’t want to be responsible if they don’t get what they need.”

She said many people living in rural communities in the county are accustomed to the lack of connectivity and don’t give it a second thought.

“Most people are there because they want to be there,” Bracken said. “Many people have been there for generations.”

She said she and Macurak can send documents to prospective buyers from their office in Center Township, but it becomes more difficult if they are north of that.

“When it’s not working, it’s a big problem,” Bracken said.

Map shows service lacking

According to a map recently released by the Federal Communications Commission, some places in Butler County have less than 50% access to mobile broadband coverage.

Another map by the commission shows 80% to 100% of Butler County has fixed broadband — with the exception of a small area in Moraine State Park.

The Butler County commissioners recently explained that while some residents have access to it, the broadband is not necessarily of the highest quality.

“Sometimes that service is weak or unstable,” Commissioner Kim Geyer said in December. “You get knocked off or lose service. This map will show areas with service, but the discrepancy comes when there are low signals. We want to make sure areas in our county are stable.”

Commissioners hope a partnership with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission will help advocate for challenges to the FCC’s map.

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