Gov. Wolf visits Marion-Walker during press conference on broadband internet access in underserved communities
Broadband and internet connectivity issues don’t necessarily just happen in rural settings. Within the Nittany Valley Region, which is served by Bellefonte Area School District, community members report issues from downtown Bellefonte to the far end of the county.
Much of that happens within the area served by Marion-Walker Elementary School.
District Director of Technology Eric Funk said that to ensure the district maintains reliable internet for its students and employees, it has a connection using fiber optics at schools such as Marion-Walker Elementary that directly connects the building to the high school where the main internet connection is.
“This connection is shared by the entire district,” Funk said.
But issues reported in the community remained.
During the pandemic closure in 2020, the district provided eligible families with devices, so students could complete work online. Director of Fiscal Affairs Ken Bean said the district purchased 25 MiFi wireless routers for the use of students who could not afford internet service, and which were funded through community donations. Learn more in this link: MiFi donations
Funk added that the district also set up outdoor wireless access at district buildings, so families and students could drive up to the buildings, and use the district's internet connection from their school-provided Chromebooks. For those community members with connectivity issues, Funk suggests using MiFi devices or “hotspots” as opposed to a traditional cable modem internet, which sometimes has limitations.
On May 18, Gov. Tom Wolf held a press conference at Marion-Walker regarding the bipartisan issue of broadband internet access in underserved areas. The event included opening remarks from Superintendent Tammie Burnaford; and school psychologist Joy Miller, who spoke about her role as a district employee and resident of the area, and the challenges that come with reliability, consistency and speed of internet at her home.
Other speakers included U.S. Department of Commerce Undersecretary Jed Kolko, and Kyle Kopko, executive director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.
Wolf said the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority is working to fund at least $100 million to provide commonwealth families with reliable internet in a three-phase process.
“Lack of broadband hurts Pennsylvanians far and wide – urban and rural,” Wolf said. “Our lack of consistent, affordable broadband keeps children from learning effectively, businesses from growing, limits job opportunities and reduces medical care options.”
Less than a week before the press conference, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the launch of Internet for All, a $45 billion initiative “to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for everyone in America by the end of the decade,” according to a press release. Pennsylvania will receive at least $100 million.
“The hope and goal is that it doesn’t happen anywhere; that everybody is well-served, and we’re going to work as quickly as we can,” Wolf told the school district in a one-on-one interview.
Fifth-grade students Malayna Kuhlman, Kiyah Henry and Landon Sykes also gave Wolf a tour of the school after the press conference.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD