Erie County government is ramping up its efforts to bring high speed internet to rural households.  The action coincides with federal and state programs that are providing money to bring broadband to underserved areas.

 

It's estimated that 90% of residents who live north of Interstate 90 in Erie County have access to high speed internet. South of Interstate 90, only 25%. Erie County government wants to help bring broadband to the other 75%.  Erick Friedman, Erie County Director of Information Technology, says the main reason is not so people can download movies faster.

 

"There's also a business impact whereas we have a lot of small businesses and home businesses that are in Erie County that don't have high speed internet who can't compete on a global market because they don't have the technology,” he said.
  

Friedman says laying down fiber optic cable is expensive for internet service providers… $35,000 per mile.

 

"There's no economic financial gain for an internet service provider to run a mile of fiber down my road where over the course of a mile there's only four houses,” he said.
   

Armstrong Communications received a grant from the state to provide broadband to rural customers in Erie County.  Friedman says 2,200 homes will receive the service by the end of this year, bringing the coverage to 50% south of I-90.
   

Billions of federal dollars are also being poured into rural broadband.

 

"So we're looking to see if there's something we can do at the county level to start looking at different technologies and ways that we can help the internet service providers or help the residents through county means,” Friedman said.
   

Using local newspapers and other methods, the county will conduct a survey in two weeks to pinpoint how many people do not have high speed internet or internet that has no caps on data.

 

"We're going to map that and create our own maps and really be able to identify where the holes are,” says Friedman.
   

The county may even try to be an internet provider itself, but it's hoping companies such as Armstrong will continue to receive funding.

 

Governor Tom Wolf (D-Pennsylvania) is once again calling for a severance fee on natural gas drilling.  Part of that revenue would be used to provide broadband service in rural areas.