The Center for Rural Pennsylvania publishes research papers that not only look at rural issues in the commonwealth, but often compare rural to urban areas.

A recent publication was titled “ Broadband Demand: The Cost and Price Elasticity of Broadband Internet Services in Rural

Pennsylvania.” The authors mentioned a 2019 report titled, “ Availability and Access in Rural Pennsylvania”, which measured broadband speeds. It concluded that median speeds across most of the areas of the state do not meet the Federal Communication Commission’s criteria to qualify as broadband. It should be noted that there are more rural defined people living in this state than any other state.

In the Pocono-Northeast, there are many defined rural areas, and thus the region and much of the state have issues relating to broadband, although this is being corrected. The rural-urban divide in the nation affects Pennsylvania as well, and the broadband report suggests that perhaps rural areas do not have sufficient return-on-investment to make rural buildout feasible. There may be lower population densities, less disposable income and less interest in broadband connectivity.

Another factor cited is the lower level of interest in broadband connectivity and less research on the measure of price elasticity of demand. The report’s research is based on survey data collected from rural and urban broadband customers across Pennsylvania.

In applying the data collected key findings include:

• Different types of internet service are used by urban and rural respondents with urban respondents reporting higher use of cable and fiber connectivity and rural respondents reporting higher use of dial-up, DSL and satellite.

• An evaluation of pricing data alone masks important differences in speed tiers between urban and rural respondents.

• Rural respondents are more likely to have slower internet speeds and urban respondent more likely to have faster speeds.

• Urban and rural respondents are receiving systematically inequitable service in terms of broadband speed and in price of service.

• The demand for broadband and service shows a “ sweet spot” in terms of willingness to pay in the under $60/month range.

• When speed and price are stable, rural respondents have a higher willingness to pay for broadband than urban residents.

This led to the following policy considerations:

• Change Pennsylvania’s current definition of “broadband” to meet or exceed federal definitions for broadband.

• Establish government support mechanisms for broadband buildout that provide greater transparency and standardized public disclosure of broadband service characteristics such as speed, pricing, and service limitations.

• Commission a statewide study to assess and derive a broadband affordability formula and model for how much low-income households can afford to spend on broadband without sacrificing other necessities such as rent, food and medical care.

• Maximize the options for broadband service provision by allowing other viable entities, such as community-based networks, municipalities and cooperatives to deploy broadband across rural Pennsylvania.

Bills submitted in the state Legislature would help deploy infrastructure dealing with broadband as well as directing the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study of the delivery of high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved areas of Pennsylvania. In rural Pennsylvania, there is a higher demand for basic service that could include the $50/month subsidy or broadband connections as proposed at he federal level, but not as yet enacted.

To encourage the use of this report for the Pocono-Northeast, here are some ideas.

• Create a regional group of technical and political teams to enhance how broadband can be extended where necessary in the region.

• Research the status of broadband in rural and urban areas of the region.

• Publish a regional newsletter on broadband, both in the print media and electronic media.

• Evaluate the results of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania report on how its recommendations can best by applied .

• The report include many zip codes that have application to the region and this data can be an important component of regional broadband development .

Steps should be taken to focus attention on broadband inside the region in the days ahead, leading toward implementation where needed across the Pocono-Northeast.