Connectivity issues plaguing Chester County

These days the internet is needed for everything. Imagine the frustration of not being able to access it. For some in Chester County, it's an everyday problem. 

Making a phone call or getting on the internet at Stephen Papa's home in East Marlborough Township is not simple or fast. 

"Spotty at best sometimes. The WiFi is the problem while other times it's difficult to stay online for a period of time without going down for some glitch somewhere," Papa said.

 Bars come and go at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square.

"The fastest way to get them help is with a cell phone call. If coverage is poor that's a problem," Michael Parisi, associate vice president of information technology at Longwood Gardens, said.

At Kendal Crosslands retirement communities cell and internet is essential to keep its 900 residents not only safe but connected to loves ones.

"Having that coverage is important to us they can call and get help if needed," Seth beaver, senior director of Resident and Community Affairs and Capital Projects, explained.

Locals know the dead zones like the intersection of 926 and Route 52.

"When that signal doesn't exist they don't know unless they're carrying this pager and even the 911 pagers have dead spots in them," Longwood Fire Company Chief AJ McCarthy said.

Longwood Fire Company has a backup to a backup to get ahold of their first responders. Most of their operation is cloud-based that they need access to.

"In trying to evacuate some area and deal with a natural gas leak and I'm driving around to find a spot where my cell phone will pick up a signal," McCarthy added.

But when you throw a pandemic into the mix, working and learning from home, the past year brought more than just challenges.

 "It’s really a big issue that needs to be addressed," Jessica Sahl with the Chester County Intermediate Unit said.

 "This is a utility this is a lifeline," Dan Maguire, director of technology at the Kennet Consolidated School District said. "It's almost a survival."

Like every school district, Kennett Consolidated had to act fast in 2020 to get kids set up to learn at home. Spending tens of thousands of dollars monthly in WiFi hotspots.

It exposed the issues that already existed: Families with no access, familes with access but low connection, and some with little knowledge on how any of it works.

"It’s not just families that are rural or poor. There are middle-class families as well that live in older homes," Sahl said.

"It's more than what everyone thinks, why can't you just pay for internet at your house like everyone else. It really has to do with that we have this blend now with cellular and the hard-wired services and they both have to work well and work dependably," Whitney Hoffman, vice chair of the Kennet Township Board of Supervisors, explained.

The state department of labor and industry recently awarded a $200,000 dollar grant to county nonprofit, the Chester County Intermediate Unit.

They’re using the money to pay an internet provider to create a map that shows where there's no connectivity or access and clear steps on how to fix it.

"If we have all of these projects shovel ready then we will really be able to go and address them," Hoffman said.



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