The recent adoption of the American infrastructure bill along with continuing efforts by local county commissioners and economic development agencies is raising hopes that the broadband internet “digital divide” could finally be substantially reduced or eliminated sooner rather than later.

This disparity between lightning-fast internet services in cities and larger communities as opposed to slow or no internet services in rural regions is referred to as the “digital divide.” It has been a lingering problem for years, becoming more pronounced during the coronavirus pandemic as schools were forced to implement online educational programs for students and residents who turned to digital technology to stay in touch with isolated family and friends.

Under the $1 trillion infrastructure bill recently signed into law by President Joe Biden, Pennsylvania will receive at least $100 million to help provide broadband internet coverage to more than 390,000 Pennsylvanians currently living without it, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., said during a conference call this week.

“Broadband is just one of a long list of elements in the infrastructure bill, but it’s one of the most important we could’ve invested in,” Casey said on Monday.

The senator said the infrastructure bill will initially provide $100 million in funds toward broadband expansion across the state, and another $35 million to enable as many as 2.9 million residents who cannot afford internet to receive high-speed service at discounted rates.

This direct assistance to eligible residents could become one of the most significant aspects of the plan because single-home or business internet service that can be delivered to nearly any location by satellite, is available right now.

At least three companies – HughesNet, Viasat and Starlink — currently offer high-speed, broadband internet services, beamed to a small satellite dish mounted at the property. The companies say their systems deliver download speeds of 25 to 150 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 3 to 20 Mbps at monthly rates ranging from $60 to $300 to most locations in nation.

Meanwhile, county commissioners in Northumberland, Snyder, Union and Columbia counties continue to work with Montour County-based DRIVE — Driving Real Innovation for a Vibrant Economy — dedicating portions of their federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocations to develop plans for rural broadband technology that could eventually serve more than a quarter-million residents across the region.

Let’s keep moving on all fronts, with all options, to finally get important high-speed internet services to all residents and businesses, regardless of where they are located.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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