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Beaver County residents and officials watch as Brandon Carson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, and economic development consultant Kalie Snyder make a presentation during the authority's event Dec. 13 at Community College of Beaver County.

How fast and how accessible is internet where you live?

Pa. Broadband Development Authority Executive Director Brandon Carson is asking Pennsylvanians to provide comments on the stakeholder engagement process for developing two plans: the State Digital Equity Plan and the commonwealth’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Five-Year Action Plan.

The two-week public comment period is open and ends March 10.

After the public comment period closes, the authority will host two meetings on March 16 to discuss updates to the plan based on feedback received:

• 11 a.m. — In-person and virtual attendance, Keystone Building, Keystone Desert Room, 400 North St. in Harrisburg.

• 6 p.m. — Virtual attendance only

“The authority understands that different users have different needs, barriers, and preferences for engagement,” Carson said. “Feedback on our stakeholder engagement strategy and developing partnerships with communities, organizations, and individuals who are already doing this work is essential to our success.”

The state digital equity stakeholder engagement plan will focus on engaging eight primary populations required through federal guidance — aging individuals, incarcerated individuals, veterans, people with disabilities, English learners, people with low levels of literacy, individuals who are members of an ethnic or racial minority or individuals living in rural areas — to offer achievable objectives, and measurable outcomes.

The plan can be viewed on the authority’s website and includes two digital equity roundtable discussions, community surveys, participation by the authority in community events, in-person community conversations around the commonwealth and measurable outcomes.

The authority also will identify a specific number of stakeholders to form a digital equity stakeholder engagement panel to help inform and guide the implementation of the plan.

Too many communities lack access to high-speed internet, and many more cannot afford it or do not know how to use it, Carson noted. This creates a divide between those who have internet access and those who do not.

Gov. Josh Shapiro has said that extending and expanding access to broadband across the commonwealth and making connection more reliable and affordable is a top priority of his administration. As part of the Digital Equity Act, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration received $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital inclusion and equity, to ensure that all individuals and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to fully benefit from our digital economy.

The State Digital Equity Planning Grant program, through which the authority received $1.6 million, will be used to develop a statewide digital equity plan. Stakeholder and community engagement efforts are paramount to the development and ultimate success of the Authority’s planning efforts.

Digital equity is also a core component of the BEAD program and the authority’s five-year action plan will incorporate digital equity and inclusion needs, goals, and implementation strategy.

The authority is charged with creating a statewide broadband plan and distributing federal and state funds for broadband expansion projects in unserved and underserved areas of the commonwealth.

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