Gov. Wolf visits Marion-Walker during press conference on rural broadband internet access
Broadband and internet connectivity issues don’t necessarily just happen in rural settings. Within the Nittany Valley Region of Centre County, which is served by Bellefonte Area School District, community members report issues from downtown Bellefonte to the far end of the county. Much of that happens within the area served by Marion-Walker Elementary School.
District Director of Technology Eric Funk said that to ensure the district maintains reliable internet for its students and employees, it has a connection using fiber optics into schools such as Marion-Walker Elementary that directly connects the school, along with the other elementary schools, to the high school where the main internet connection is. “This connection is shared by the entire district,” Funk said.
During the pandemic closure in 2020, the district provided some eligible families in need with devices so students could successfully complete work online. Director of Fiscal Affairs Ken Bean said the district purchased 25 Mi-Fi wireless routers for the use of students who could not afford internet service, and which were funded through community donations.
Funk added that the district also set up outdoor wireless access at some district buildings, so families and students could drive up to buildings, and use the district’s internet connection from their school-provided Chromebooks.
On May 18, Gov. Tom Wolf held a press conference at Marion-Walker in regard to the bipartisan issue of rural broadband internet connectivity, that included opening remarks from Superintendent Tammie Burnaford; and school psychologist Joy Miller, who spoke about her role as a district employee and resident of the area, and the challenges that come with reliability, consistency and speed of internet at her home. Other guests included U.S. Department of Commerce Undersecretary Jed Kolko, and Kyle Kopko, executive director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.
Wolf said the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority is on the heals of providing at least $100 million of the larger federal Internet for All initiative to provide commonwealth families with reliable internet in a three-phase process. “Lack of broadband hurts Pennsylvanians far and wide – urban and rural,” Wolf said. “Our lack of consistent, affordable broadband keeps children from learning effectively, businesses from growing, limits job opportunities and reduces medical care options.”
Less than a week before the press conference, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the launch of Internet for All, a $45 billion initiative “to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for everyone in America by the end of the decade,” according to a press release. Pennsylvania will receive at least $100 million from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.
“The hope and goal is that it doesn’t happen anywhere; that everybody is well-served, and we’re going to work as quickly as we can,” Wolf told the school district in a one-on-one interview.
Fifth-grade students Malayna Kuhlman, Kiyah Henry and Landon Sykes also gave Gov. Wolf a tour of the school.
For those community members with connectivity issues, Funk suggests using Mi-Fi devices or “hotspots” as opposed a traditional cable modem internet, which sometimes has limitations.