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Chester County Press

It’s time for all Pennsylvanians to enjoy the digital age

02/28/2024 12:31PM ● By Nathan Flood

For many across Pennsylvania, the easy access and availability of broadband technology and the ability to connect to the world from the comfort of our own homes or businesses are taken for granted. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone who lives or works in the commonwealth. In fact, in some rural and urban communities, the reality is far from acceptable in the year 2024.

The word "equity" has become a controversial word to some, but "digital equity" has not because it’s a real need across a wide cross-section of Pennsylvania and the United States. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) defines digital equity as “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy.”

That’s something we can all get behind. With school buildings closed during the pandemic, the already urgent need for broadband intensified as residents fought to find online access to their health care, educational institutions, government resources and places of employment. As we found in countless stories during the pandemic, working families without internet access sat in cars with their children so they could do online classwork with Wi-Fi connections in school parking lots, restaurants and other business establishments.

An effort that began under the Wolf administration now continues with the Shapiro administration and state lawmakers in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, who are partnering with nonprofit organizations to identify broadband connectivity solutions. Progress thus far has proven to be successful.

Working with the state Department of Education’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) and partners, KINBER completed robust digital access projects at public libraries through the Libraries Connect Communities and Broadband Resources project. In all, more than 80 libraries in 25 counties were fitted with technology because they continue to serve as essential community meeting spaces. All public libraries provide free Wi-Fi, but the program now ensures libraries are made “future ready” with improvements to network infrastructure, broadband technologies and resources.

Of those, 19 counties received Library Fiber Feasibility and Community Impact Studies, which provided a comprehensive analysis of all fiber broadband and wireless infrastructure. KINBER and OCL also partnered with 12 local and regional information technology groups to execute the plan, which included the addition of hundreds of desktop and laptop computers. A privacy and laptop kiosk also was installed.

Make no mistake, Pennsylvania’s early results in working toward digital inclusion are promising, but a great deal of work remains. Unbelievably, as we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century in what is known as the digital age, about 1.17 million Pennsylvania residents lack home internet, according to a report produced by the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. Created in 2021, the authority was a bipartisan effort in the General Assembly led by Rep. Martin Causer and tasked with creating a statewide broadband plan and distributing federal funds for expansion projects. While many assume the problem areas can be exclusively found among Pennsylvania’s beautiful but remote rural areas, 70 percent of low-income households are in urban areas, where connectivity costs are simply too expensive for many.

Our collective early success, along with the challenge that remains, should be a clarion call to the commonwealth, nonprofits, businesses, foundations and community anchor institutions to identify other opportunities to achieve the critical mission of digital inclusion. We can replicate what has been done in libraries at other community anchor institutions, including veteran facilities, housing authorities, community halls, and local and county government facilities. 

To help do this, the Shapiro administration and the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority have successfully positioned our commonwealth in the coming years by preparing to tap into billions in federal grants through the Capital Project Funds (CPF) Program and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Opportunities exist right now to expand access in areas where our fellow Pennsylvanians have waited for far too long for digital inclusion. The success of Libraries Connect should hearten those communities that the resources — and proven solutions — are finally achievable.


Nathan Flood is the president and CEO of KINBER, a nonprofit organization committed to working with communities, governments, businesses and schools to advance digital inclusion. For more information, please see: