By Amy Wadas

WAYNESBURG, Pa. (KDKA) – It was a celebration that was a long time coming for Greene County. Outside the chamber of commerce in Waynesburg, many gathered to celebrate the county’s accomplishments so far when it comes to broadband expansion.

Greene County received $1.2 million in CARES Act funding. On top of that, broadband company Kinetic by Windstream invested another $1.6 million to make the internet more widely available for remote working and learning.

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“They now can accomplish things they couldn’t do before and struggle with like the kids going online for virtual learning or parents who may be working remotely or even more importantly those people who have doctors’ appointments who can now do telemedicine that they couldn’t do before,” said State Senator for the 46th District Camera Bartolotta.

Since internet expansion began, 7,300 homes are now wired for service.

However, there’s still a long way to go. One county over, rural leaders said connectivity is crucial for future success.

Washington County may only be a 25-minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh, but there are parts of the county that are much farther away and still struggle to access the internet. A small pocket of the county was taken care of last fall with the first round of stimulus money, but Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan said it’s not enough.

“We’ve been trying to work on a very loose plan. We are still waiting to hear what the guidelines that will be allowed to use this money for are handed down to us,” said Vaughan.

The county is expecting a second round of stimulus money, totaling $98 million. Vaughan hopes to use part of that to wire more.

“An upgrade in our public safety department, our 911 systems. We are also looking to demolish our current building. We recently purchased a new office building, new parking garage,” said Vaughan.

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Homes are another area the county wants to keep expanding internet service to so that students and parents can work remotely without struggling to get online. Bethlehem-Center School District’s Superintendent Dr. Chris Sefcheck knows all too well what that is like.

“Internet is a big issue or lack of for the residents of our rural community,” said Sefcheck.

While the district made some improvements in 2020, he said it will keep fighting until every student can get online beyond the pandemic.

“It’s important to realize moving forward we have to have an environment for both in-person and remote learning. Even if in-person is all week and at home, they’re doing remote stuff on their own,” said Sefcheck.

Neighboring Greene County also understands the importance of connection which is why the county hopes its partnership with broadband company Kinetic by Windstream continues to expand.

“This partnership is just the beginning. We expect to expand further and provide internet service to all folks in Greene County,” said Susan Schraibman with Kinetic by Windstream.

They hope to do that so students aren’t left behind and businesses want to move into the area.

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Greene County commissioners say Kinetic by Windstream will likely invest another $2.7 million into the county. The county also applied for more grant money and hopes to hear if they get it by June. If so, they plan to continue expanding broadband service after that.