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Senate Hearing on Broadband Wraps up Efforts and Looks to the Future

October 20, 2020

In what was deemed as the largest virtually attended broadband hearing of the 2019–2020 legislative session, on Tuesday more than 30 stakeholders joined the state Senate Communications and Technology Committee Broadband Public Roundtable, to discuss federal and state perspectives on broadband access and the impact of COVID-19 on access to health care and other services.

Congressman Scott Perry (PA-10) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr joined chair of the committee, Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), at the roundtable to provide remarks on federal efforts, both legislative and regulatory, to expand broadband access to Pennsylvanians. The Pennsylvania hospital community and other stakeholders provided context on the critical need for solid broadband infrastructure in order to effectively shift focus from brick and mortar health services to telehealth. The topics of health equity, access, quality care, and affordability were central throughout roundtable discussions.

The worldwide pandemic has brought to the forefront the disparities facing many Americans, including those without access to broadband. Pennsylvania hospitals moved quickly to address COVID-19, implementing telehealth services at an exponential rate, in an effort to continue providing medical care to patients. For those Pennsylvanians without access to broadband, telehealth visits are limited and in some cases unavailable—proving yet another barrier to receiving care during a time of statewide shutdowns, cancelled appointments, and a general hesitation to go to a hospital or provider.

St. Luke’s University Health Network provided the perspective that broadband access issues are prevalent across the commonwealth. Ryan Morcrette, Operations Lead for Telehealth and Clinical Communications, stated, “Our population still has many patients who do not have reliable connectivity to the digital world either due to economic disparity in the urban setting or geographical lack of access in the rural portions of our service area.”

With very few days left in this year’s legislative session and the legislative forecast relying on the results of the upcoming election, legislators and stakeholders agreed on the need to continue discussions and legislative efforts on increasing access to broadband services throughout the commonwealth.

For additional information, contact Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy.