Gwendolyn Huntoon: Connecting Pa. communities with vital broadband | TribLIVE.com
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Gwendolyn Huntoon: Connecting Pa. communities with vital broadband

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For a large majority of Pennsylvanians with good connectivity, the internet signifies a 24/7, 365-day stream of information. However, if you live in an area with limited broadband availability, you are likely more frustrated than informed. Access to reliable, high-speed internet service has become a necessity, not a luxury, in 2019.

Those living in these underconnected and often rural communities struggle with everyday tasks, such as getting news, completing homework assignments or applying for jobs. For example, an overwhelming majority of school assignments require online access, leaving students without reliable high-speed internet service unable to perform the work needed for them to find academic success. It’s not uncommon to see a student finishing a project in the school parking lot — often one of the only community anchor institutions or businesses in the region with good broadband network connectivity.

Broadband in Pennsylvania is a jigsaw puzzle of quality and availability — anchored by Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Harrisburg roughly in the middle. Many of Pennsylvania’s counties cover vast rural areas with low populations and limited access to services.

The Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER) is working to provide Pennsylvania’s community anchor institutions in unconnected areas not just with network services and connectivity, but with the expertise, collaborative opportunities, applications and services to provide access to the lowest possible cost and highest value for schools, libraries, and health care, government and nonprofit organizations.

These broadband networks will help improve the quality of life for all communities.

Widespread broadband will not magically create a robust digital economy in Pennsylvania. But broadband is the foundation that allows communities to grow their technology sector through entrepreneurship programs, remote workforce cultivation and STEM curricula in our schools.

In Allegheny County, KINBER has partnered with Meta Mesh, a nonprofit organization that builds community wireless networks using mesh networking technology in the Pittsburgh region. Meta Mesh and KINBER, along with the Hill District Community Development Corporation and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, have worked to bring bandwidth from a connection to KINBER’s high-speed PennREN fiber network in support of the communities in the Hill District, providing critical broadband access to more unserved and underserved communities.

With this type of foundation in place, Pennsylvania’s 67 counties can finally realize the full promise of the internet by developing partnerships with research and education networks across the globe in an effort to collaborate on such things as telemedicine, education and other human service opportunities.

Widespread broadband deployment isn’t easy, but the biggest barriers to better connectivity are not simply geographical. It’s fairly simple. Better internet access means more economic and educational opportunities, and a higher quality of life for all Pennsylvanians. There’s a way forward for communities with poor connectivity, but we need everyone at the table to make it happen.

By connecting the community anchor institutions in the unserved, underserved and often rural areas within the state, KINBER can help bring the knowledge-based education, health care and community resources to Pennsylvanians who might otherwise be left out of the digital revolution.

Categories: Opinion
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