With no negative votes, House approves rural broadband legislation

Voting 199-0, the state House sent the Senate legislation, HB 1658, that broadens the current ability of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to move public utility infrastructure, and enter into cost sharing agreements with rural landline telcos during road and bridge projects.

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon), is a key part of efforts to increase investment in rural broadband in Pennsylvania.

“One of the critical lessons we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of having a robust broadband network throughout the Commonwealth,” Heffley wrote in a sponsorship memo to his House colleagues. “Consequently, we are asking our landline telephone companies to improve and enhance advanced networks for our constituents in order to deliver faster broadband speeds. The costs associated with moving poles, lines, etc. to accommodate new road construction is making this investment even more difficult since much of this expense cannot be recouped by the companies.”

Steve Samara, President of the Pennsylvania Telephone Association (PTA), added that the legislation would place no mandates on PennDOT, but that “it does provide an opportunity for our local telcos to discuss potential partnering in an effort to help mitigate the significant costs borne by the companies when moving lines/poles etc. as our state’s roads and bridges are being improved. These savings are critical as the PTA members are facing increasing pressure to deliver faster broadband speeds to rural parts of the commonwealth.”

The bill is similar to Act 89 of 2013 that provides for cost sharing between public utilities and PennDOT.

It has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.