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Rapp talks broadband programs at Allegheny Community Center

Times Observer art by Lorri Drumm Pennsylvania State Representative Kathy Rapp offered her views about the need for improved broadband service and the means to fund it at the Allegheny Community Center on Thursday.

When it comes to the need for improved broadband service throughout Warren County, State Representative Kathy Rapp completely agrees. She lives in rural Warren County and has advocated for upgrades.

But, unlike a program presented on the topic in August, Rapp does not favor a severance tax to bring about improved service.

Rapp shared her views on the topic at the Allegheny Senior Center in Warren on Thursday. The event was a follow up to the August program presented by Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres and Department of Community and Economic Development Northwest Regional Director Tina Mengine. The August program was a listening session to talk about Gov. Tom Wolf’s Restore PA initiative.

In August Mengine described Restore PA as a “bipartisan effort to instill $4.5 billion into the state in the next four years.”

The revenue would be used to improve broadband access and address issues including an aging infrastructure, blight, storm preparedness, and disaster recovery throughout the entire state, including rural areas.

The income would be generated through a severance tax on drilling of natural gas, according to Mengine. Out of 34 states that produce natural gas, Pennsylvania is the second top producer. Texas produces the most.

While Pennsylvania imposes an impact fee, there is currently no severance tax.

“The impact fee is not delivering the amount of revenue that a severance tax would,” Mengine explained in August.

Restore PA proposes a 7.5-percent severance tax be imposed on companies that produce natural gas, according to information presented in August.

Rapp told those gathered Thursday that she was asked if she supported the severance tax after the August program. Her response was that she did not. She chose to explain her position with a public program and ample handouts on Thursday.

Rapp told those gathered of the high cost of natural gas prior to Marcellus drilling in the state. “Then it was ‘Drill Baby Drill,'” she said. The state then started seeing revenue in natural gas and now the price is more affordable, she said.

The Marcellus is a large and prolific area of shale gas extraction from the Marcellus Formation in the eastern United States. The shale play stretches across Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and into eastern Ohio and western New York. It is the largest source of natural gas in the United States.

Rapp went on to explain that Warren County has no Marcellus Shale wells. “We have conventional wells that produce gallons a day, not barrels,” she said. Counties that have Marcellus wells receive more revenue from the current impact fee.

It’s projected that the current tax on natural gas, the impact fee, will have generated nearly $1.7 billion in revenue since 2012, according to information provided by Rapp.

Revenue from the impact fee is distributed throughout the commonwealth, according to Rapp. She called a potential severance tax a “double tax on one industry.” She also expressed concern that revenue generated from a severance tax would likely go straight to Harrisburg and go to the general budget.

While Rapp opposes an additional tax on the natural gas industry to raise revenue that might go toward improved broadband service, she offered support from her office for efforts from the private sector.

“The government tries to solve problems one way,” she said. “Private industry does it another way. I will always believe the private sector does it better.”

Rapp then praised “a gentleman from Youngsville” who got grant money from the federal government to improve broadband service in that area. She chose not to mention the gentleman’s name.

In May the Times Observer reported on Youngsville Television — now known as Blue Fiber Corporation.

At that time, the company had connected some of the county’s 911 operations to fiber, according to Thomas Mott, operations manager.

According to Mott on Thursday, “Youngsville Television has been working on expanding to provide broadband services to those in the region who do not have adequate access to quality broadband. Working with our local, state, and federal representatives along with Northwest Planning Commission, YTV shall soon begin bringing broadband services along with tv and phone to those unserved in our region.”

“Currently we are finalizing the legal paperwork on a 2019 ARC Power grant,” he said. “This project provides funds to connect the volunteer fire departments in Garland, Spring Creek, Wrightsville, Chandlers Valley, and Spartansburg with fiber optic services,” he said. “Spring boarding off the fiber connectivity will be local access by businesses and residences in these communities.”

“Secondly Youngsville Television is working on delivering broadband to Cherry Grove through the USDA Community Connect program,” he said. “Final notice and formal award is forthcoming on this project.”

“All projects are slated to begin in the second quarter of 2020 and ultimately providing broadband services to nearly 1,000 unserved homes and businesses in the region,” he said. “Other programs and plans are being developed to continue to expand and ultimately reach those unserved within the immediate region over the next several years.”

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