Pennsylvania recently created the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (the “Authority”) to oversee broadband deployment to unserved and underserved areas in Pennsylvania and to authorize grant awards from the $100 million allocated to Pennsylvania by the Federal government.  The federal infrastructure bill (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act), signed into law by President Biden in November 2021, is the source of the federal funds.  The Authority – located in the Department of Community and Economic Development – will serve as the single point of contact for entities desiring to deploy broadband in the Commonwealth.

The Authority must ensure that the use of federal funds is coordinated (e.g., public-private partnerships).  The Authority will maintain a centralized database among Commonwealth agencies and may develop educational materials and best practices for municipalities.  The Authority will develop a Statewide broadband plan to ensure that deployment is strategic, efficient, and will not result in unnecessary “overbuilds” – i.e., the deployment of high-speed broadband service infrastructure in an area that is not unserved or underserved.  “Unserved” is defined as a project area that has no broadband access or lacks reliable access to a speed of not less than 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and three Mbps for uploads.  “Underserved” is defined as an area that lacks reliable access to a speed of not less than 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads.

Projects may provide expanded broadband service through wireless, wireline, or fixed wireless technologies.  In awarding grants, the Authority shall consider, among other things, the size and scope of the project area; the experience and technical and financial ability of the applicant; and the proportion of capital pledged by the applicant to finance the proposed project.  Prior to awarding a grant, the Authority must make proposed project areas publicly available.  An eligible entity may challenge a proposed project on the grounds that the project will result in an overbuild.  In reviewing a challenge, the Authority must ensure that the project at issue deploys broadband to unserved or underserved areas consistent with federal law or guidance.

The Authority will be governed by an eleven-member board, including six agency heads (or their designees), the Executive Director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (or a designee), two members of the Senate, and two members of the House of Representatives.  The Governor will select the Chair from the Authority’s board members.

Given the volume of funding available, the Commonwealth seeks to ensure cost-efficient deployment of the federal funds and fiscal discipline at the Authority.  Board members will not be compensated and must serve in a fiduciary relationship with the Commonwealth and the Authority regarding the Authority’s use of money and investments.  The Board shall issue an annual report detailing the funded projects.  The accounts and books of the Authority shall be examined and audited by the Auditor General.  The Authority will dissolve in ten years in December 2031 or when all available federal funds have been exhausted, whichever comes first.

We will continue to monitor the development of the Authority.  If you have any questions regarding this post, please contact a member of the McNees Land Use or Energy and Environmental Group.