Senate Advances Measure to Boost Broadband Availability

The Senate approved a bill Wednesday to boost the availability of broadband by reducing regulatory burdens on telecommunications companies and utilizing existing infrastructure to further deploy high-speed internet, according to Senator Joe Pittman, who supported the bill.

House Bill 2438 would aid in the deployment of broadband by using infrastructure that is already in place for other uses. The bill would allow electric cooperatives to utilize existing utility poles to place fiber-optic lines if the placement does not adversely affect the value or use of the property. Senator Pittman is the prime sponsor of the companion bill in the Senate (Senate Bill 1118).

“The infrastructure necessary to expand broadband exists, but outdated easements that were originally intended for electricity or telegraph lines do not specifically allow broadband lines to be placed on existing utility poles,” Senator Pittman said. “That means cooperatives must reopen easement agreements just to clarify that the existing infrastructure can be used for broadband purposes.  That is a costly and cumbersome burden when you consider all of the potential easements that would have to be revisited.”

The 13 electric distribution cooperatives in Pennsylvania are not-for-profit, member-owned utilities that provide affordable and reliable electric service to hundreds of thousands of consumers in rural areas. Overall, Pennsylvania’s cooperatives own and maintain about 12.5 percent of the electric distribution lines in the state, covering nearly one-third of the Commonwealth’s land area in 42 counties. These lines, an essential component of rural business and industry, represent one of the Commonwealth’s largest non-governmental investments in rural infrastructure.

“I know that REA Energy Cooperative, which provides excellent electric service to most of my Indiana County constituents, is looking into the possibility of providing broadband access in its area as are other cooperatives,” Senator Pittman said. “House Bill 2438 will provide for a more efficient and cost-effective method for expanding broadband access in Pennsylvania for those electric cooperatives who wish to do so, without adversely affecting private property owners or placing an additional burden on taxpayers.” 

House Bill 2438 now goes to the Governor’s desk for enactment into law..


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