PENNSYLVANIA — Elspeth Koehle, a civic activist from Erie, penned an op-ed highlighting how President Biden’s historic bipartisan infrastructure law will finally conquer Pennsylvania’s digital divide. Koehle says the $65 billion broadband package — including $14 billion to help low-income families afford home internet service —  is a “groundbreaking step forward” for Erie. 

Erie Times News: How the infrastructure bill can close northwest Pa.’s digital divide  

With the stroke of a pen, President Joe Biden recently signed into law a historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill — and laid the groundwork for finally conquering Pennsylvania’s digital divide.

Spent wisely, the bill’s $65 billion broadband package — including $14 billion to help low-income families afford home internet service — could do for internet connectivity what FDR’s Rural Electrification Act did for electric power nearly a century ago. And not a moment too soon: The pandemic’s acceleration of virtual learning, telehealth, and remote work makes broadband more essential than ever.


Let’s start with the numbers. Roughly 99% of Erie County homes have broadband available. Ninety-five percent have world-class, ultra-fast networks right at their doorstep. Yet fewer than 70% of households in the county are actually connected to home broadband service. Black, Latino, and low-income families are less likely to have home internet than wealthier, white peers.

For neighborhoods and rural communities still waiting for high-speed broadband, the infrastructure bill commits $42 billion to build and extend new networks. And it includes some clear, really smart guidelines to make sure the money gets spent effectively.

First in line will be homes that have no broadband service available at all. These federal dollars will be manna from heaven for more remote communities in rural Pennsylvania still waiting for a digital on-ramp.

Next in line will be “underserved” areas where the only broadband options are old, outdated, slow technologies like DSL. The infrastructure bill will help these areas upgrade to lightning-fast fiber, cable, or fixed wireless networks — the kind most homes here in Erie already benefit from.


Here, the infrastructure bill’s new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a groundbreaking step forward. 


Paired with providers’ low-income programs, the ACP means home broadband service is essentially now free for low-income families. That’s a transformative change.


The infrastructure bill will send the state of Pennsylvania federal dollars to stand up a digital equity grant program, empowered to fund these kind of outreach and education campaigns.

Erie needs to get to work developing a concrete plan for putting these funds to work. We need everyone at the table — Democrats and Republicans, elected officials and businesses, community leaders and nonprofits. And we need real accountability — measuring ourselves by how many families get connected, not how many tweets and press releases we put out patting ourselves on the back.

The infrastructure bill gives Erie an unprecedented chance to end our digital divide. It’s up to us to seize this chance.