SUSQUHANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Online connectivity is part of life for most people in the 21st century. But for some, the World Wide Web loads very slowly.
Rural areas in northeast and central Pennsylvania have been using the internet slowly for decades. That could change with billions of federal dollars.
The infrastructure bill could be a real boost as we struggle to watch our favorite movie or wait for a video to load on YouTube or just shop online as well as for students doing their homework or take an online course.
We are all connected through our cell phones and computers, thanks to the Internet. How we surf the web and how quickly it loads depends on the connection.
“When we closed for that brief time, there was a big hurdle for those who didn’t have consistent or reliable connectivity. So when we were forced into this mode, it was a very difficult time,” Elk Lake High School Principal John Warnero said.
Warnaro says in-person learning could not be duplicated online during the height of the pandemic, with students not having access to the same materials.
“The most important part of education, the human interaction, the social interaction with our students. So being in this building is the most important part of education,” Warnero said.
“The cables companies use today certainly don’t have the speed we need for e-learning. They should replace much of the existing infrastructure with fiber,” said Reed Corby, IT infrastructure specialist for the Elk Lake School District.
Elk Lake School District students live in rural Susquehanna County. Corby conducted a survey early in the pandemic to see if households are struggling to make a connection.
“We imagined a form where we collected all this data with the parents. And it really brought to light, you know, a lot of people in that area don’t have reliable internet,” Corby said.
The installation of optical fibers in the telephone lines would make it possible to establish a better connection.
“Single mode is thinner because it can send data over longer distances and multimode is shorter because it has higher throughput,” Corby said.
Reed describes two different types of fibers that are used. Both increase speed while using simple glass cores in its wires, compared to thicker twisted wires that weaken a signal that plagues rural areas.
“It affects education, it affects access to health care, it affects our ability to work and our ability for our small businesses to survive in the 21st century,” County Commissioner Judith Herschel said.
Herschel says the Internet has become a utility. The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill includes $65 billion to improve broadband internet in rural communities across the country. Susquehanna County invested in a multi-year feasibility study to determine where fiber optics should go.
“As for Susquehanna County, we are ready to go. Funding has been the problem,” Herschel said.
Frontier provides most broadband in Susquehanna County and beyond.
In a statement to Eyewitness News, they say, “Frontier has fiber optic expansion plans in Pennsylvania for 2022 that include the northeast portion of the Commonwealth. The service will be fiber to the premises and concert service for all past locations.
“I’m just glad it’s being taken care of now. We complained long before COVID and it brought that to light,” Herschel said.
It’s been a problem for decades. Commissioner Herschel said it: We’ve been complaining for years. He felt we had been ignored.