Skip to main content
Main content

The challenges facing Pa.'s broadband push

Plus, why $1.1 billion in state spending is still on hold.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

August 24, 2023 |
Final pieces, acting secretaries, machine malfunctions, logistical challenges, high demand, court orders, waiting game, and body cam.


It's been nearly three weeks since Gov. Josh Shapiro signed Pennsylvania’s main state budget legislation into law, but code bills that will enable more than a billion dollars of the total $45.5 billion in spending remain unfinished

Supplemental funding for the commonwealth's poorest school districts, $50 million for a popular home repair program, and Pennsylvania's first-ever direct funding for public defenders are among the unfunded initiatives.

This week, state Senate GOP leaders announced they plan to return to Harrisburg on Wednesday to try and hammer out code language. The state House hasn’t yet said when it will return to Harrisburg. 

Also, seven months into his first term as Pennsylvania’s governor, two of Shapiro’s picks for top cabinet posts haven’t been confirmed by the state Senate. Spotlight PA's Kate Huangpu explains why.

Finally, Votebeat and Spotlight PA report that the commonwealth’s Department of State will soon require counties to publicly report voting machine malfunctions.


"Every change we make to the structure of government — and in this case how the legislature has some oversight authority over the executive — we need to weigh it very carefully."

—Pat Christmas, of the Committee of 70, on a proposed change to the state constitution regarding acting cabinet secretaries

MISSED CONDUCT: Join us Thursday, Aug. 31 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel discussion on Penn State’s post-Sandusky misconduct policies, transparency in higher education, and how universities can keep students and employees safe. Register for the event here and submit your questions to
» New bills would let Pennsylvania local governments hire firms as managers

5 logistical challenges to Pa.’s coming broadband push

In the coming years, Pennsylvania will receive more than $1 billion in federal funding to bring high-speed internet access to everyone in the state. 

It’s a historic opportunity and a serious challenge, according to a new plan from the state Broadband Development Authority that outlines how it will accomplish that goal over the next five years. 

The money comes from the wide-ranging bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021. Pennsylvania will also receive an estimated $900 million for broadband from other federal programs and private investment required as a condition of grant funding.

Here are five obstacles Pennsylvania will have to navigate as it spends the money, according to the authority’s plan. 

Workforce shortages 

Engineers. Technicians. Electricians. Surveyors. Laborers. 

Pennsylvania will need an estimated 117,000 workers to build new broadband networks. The state’s plan details how low unemployment and a tight labor market could make finding them a challenge. In July, internet service providers told the state broadband authority they were having difficulty hiring and keeping workers “due to intense competition, training prerequisites, and the industry’s unique technical demands.” Pennsylvania needs “rapid support” from training programs, the plan says. 

Supply chain problems 

Although the global supply chain is rebounding after the disruptions of the pandemic, problems remain, the state plan notes. Difficulty obtaining electrical components and high-tech chips could delay projects and drive up costs. Additionally, demand will surge as all 50 states give out grants to build new networks on roughly the same schedule. A federal law that requires all construction materials for infrastructure projects be produced in the U.S. will also limit the available supplies. 


The huge broadband buildout will require a vast number of permits from Pennsylvania’s more than 2,500 municipalities and differences in the way they process them could add costs and slow projects down. 

The Broadband Development Authority suggests the state consider paying for temporary staff to help local governments handle permits. Pennsylvania’s plan also argues that establishing a statewide permitting standard would make the process more efficient. 

The cost of an internet subscription 

Bringing broadband to everyone in the commonwealth won’t improve residents' lives if the service is too expensive, the Broadband Development Authority warns. As part of an ongoing statewide survey, 56% of respondents said the cost of a subscription was a challenge. Just over half said paying their monthly internet bill was either “somewhat” or “very” difficult.

The broadband authority says it will “strongly encourage” internet service providers that receive grants to offer a “middle-class affordability option” to all subscribers. It will also encourage companies to participate in a federal program that gives low-income households discounts of up to $30 per month on their internet bills. 

In Pennsylvania, however, less than a third of eligible households were enrolled in the program as of July. It is also projected to run out of money next year unless Congress increases its funding. 

Limited competition among providers 

More than half the responses to the state survey said residents had no choice of internet service provider. A lack of competition can result in higher prices, the plan notes.

Federal rules limit states’ ability to use grant funding to increase competition in areas that already have high-speed internet. But the plan says that when scoring grant proposals, Pennsylvania “may prioritize” companies that “bring competition into the market statewide” by offering a chance for small local companies to grow.

This plan doesn’t spell out how Pennsylvania will evaluate grant proposals and choose which ultimately receive funding. That will come in another document submitted to the federal government later in the process. Charlotte Keith, Spotlight PA

🏆 HIGH SCORE: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: COVID-19 hospitalizations, falling unemployment, and Fetterman’s stache
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaHIGH DEMAND: Erie has closed applications for its corner of the state's Whole-Home Repairs Program due to "overwhelming" demand, via Erie News Now. Spotlight PA reported in June that interest in the home improvement grants was high as several counties opted out.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaCOURT ORDERS: Brenda Bowersox of York County was killed by her estranged husband after a judge refused to issue a permanent protection from abuse order in her case. York Dispatch (paywall) reports police are taking more guns under PFA orders there, but gaps remain.

This week's third top news story in Pennsylvania‘FRAC-OUT’: More than a year after residents of New Freeport in Greene County discovered a drilling fluid leak or frac-out caused by natural gas activity near an abandoned well, they still do not have answers on whether it is safe for them to drink their water again, NBC News reports. Residents continue to rely on bottled water.

WAITING GAME: After moving to Pennsylvania from Missouri earlier this year and correcting her nursing license to reflect a change to her maiden name, Amy Milson is still waiting for her updated credentials. Milson told The Morning Call (paywall) that the wait has cost her up to $15,600 in income. Milson isn’t alone in experiencing such a delay, and a state law that could help has yet to be put into action.

BODY CAM: Two use-of-force experts have dissected footage of a fatal Ligonier Valley police shooting involving a man with a machete. TribLIVE reports one of the experts said the police could have done more to deescalate the situation. Another said the police could have called the man — 59-year-old Robbie Saunders — out to the yard instead of climbing up the stairs, boxing the front officer in at the landing.

» AP: State Police can’t hide how it monitors social media

» CT INSIDER: Camp closed due to ‘extreme filth' reopening in Pa. 

» INQUIRER: Shell co. used to thwart rules for hiring Black-owned biz

» TRIBUNE-DEMOCRAT: Ex-DA will go to prison for attack on woman

» WTAJ: Shapiro admin to allow more licensed nurses to practice in Pa.

Send your answers to

WATER WAY (Case No. 214)There are two people near a body of water, and they both need to get to the other side. The boat that can take them can only hold one person at a time. But they both manage to get across. How?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: The babies are two in a set of triplets. (Find last week's clue here.) 

Congrats to Suzie B., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Lynda G., Joe S., Susan N.-Z., Jeffrey F., Annette I., Don H., Beth T., Tish M., Fred O., Roseanne D., Phil C., Mary B., Lou R., and Johnny C.
Like The Investigator? Share it with a friend.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan & nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the powerful to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.

Copyright © Spotlight PA. All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
PO Box 11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728

This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

You're receiving this email because you signed up for The Investigator. 

Receiving too many emails from Spotlight PA?

To change your newsletter subscriptions and frequency, you can update your preferences.

To stop receiving fundraising messages, you can update your preferences and select "Opt out of Fundraising."

To stop receiving ALL EMAILS from Spotlight PA, including all of our investigations and newsletters, you can completely unsubscribe here.