Over the past several decades, the population of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, has incrementally jumped up and down, but today’s population is the same as it was in 1960. In order to boost economic development and encourage growth with more jobs, community leaders are deploying fiber for better connectivity in several industrial areas.
Financial Help For Fiber Connectivity
In May, U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced that they would provide a $569,000 grant to the county to help fund the project. The EDA consider the project worth while because they expect the project to retain 20 existing jobs, generate 42 new jobs, and stimulate $25 million in private investment.
County officials intend to combine the EDA grant with an additional grant they received in January from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC grant of almost $949,000 will allow Somerset County to dedicate approximately $1.5 million to run fiber four industrial parks. The County will match the grant award in order to fully fund the 22-mile network, which will expand existing Somerset County fiber infrastructure. View a map of the proposed expansion here.
Lack Of Meaningful Connectivity In Rural Pennsylvania
Recently, the County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with a firm to oversee the project. Long-term goals are to improve connectivity for approximately 1,100 businesses and 3,900 households along with local community anchor institutions (CAIs) and other entities. Approximately 18 percent of the people in Somerset don’t have broadband as defined by the FCC (25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload) according to Form 477 data. The number is likely much higher, however, because Form 477 data tends to overstate coverage, especially in rural areas. Shortly after the county received the EDA award, two local Internet service providers expressed interest in delivering services via the new infrastructure.
The largest community is the county seat of Somerset with approximately 6,200 residents. The remaining boroughs and census-designated places vary in population from about 4,000 to less than 30. There are approximately 77,400 people scattered over the county’s 1,081 square miles along Pennsylvania’s southern border. Like many other rural areas, Somerset county’s low population density and widely dispersed population centers don’t appeal to national ISPs; they view such an environment as not worth investment.
Retain And Attract
In order to keep jobs and opportunity in Somerset County, community leaders realized they needed to take steps:
“Definitely, the high-speed portion is where we’re lacking,” said Somerset County Commissioner Gerald Walker. “For our existing industry in the county, so much of their ordering … is done over the internet anymore. It just hampers them in their ability to work to their full potential.”
After receiving the EDA grant in May, Commissioners immediately started planning for the next steps:
“As we move forward, it just becomes more and more important to be able to connect with everyone instantly,” Commissioner Gerald Walker said.
Commissioner John Vatavuk agreed: “We’ve got to get with the 21st century here.”