COUDERSPORT — Different leaders of Potter County had the opportunity to meet with the Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives acting executive director Sheri Collins on Tuesday.

Collins met with members of the Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative to visit business owners in Potter County.

Bill Gerski, senior vice president of business development at Tri-Co Connections, Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative’s high-speed internet subsidiary, brought Collins to Hamilton’s Pure Maple Products in Ulysses to talk to Larry and Phyllis Hamilton about the need for high speed internet as small business owners.

Collins said a lot of legislators in the state see the need for broadband internet access, but don’t like Governor Wolf’s proposal. His proposal — Restore Pennsylvania — is a $4.5 billion proposal that would provide funding to completely bridge the digital divide in every community in Pennsylvania. It would be funded through a severance tax on the natural gas industry. Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry is the second largest producer of natural gas in the country.

“We are the only state with natural gas drilling that does not impose a severance tax,” Collins said. She said that in 2018, Texas had a severance tax that was equal to $1.4 billion. In Pennsylvania, the impact fee brought in $209 million and is only available to the areas where the drilling is occurring.

Collins said she is out meeting with local leaders and businesses to learn their stories so she can share them when she is back in Harrisburg.

Phyllis Hamilton said they currently have HughesNet but her son down the road has DSL through Verizon.

“I have HughesNet, which works okay as long as it doesn’t rain or snow, but I only can use it (at the store), I have no (internet) at the house,” Phyllis said. She said there is a cable running between the store and her house, but they need new equipment in order to use it.

In order to get that new equipment, they’d have to sign another two year contract, which she doesn’t want to do.

Phyllis said you have to be patient while waiting for something online to load. But with all of their orders coming through the website, it’s not always reliable. Sometimes orders are missed because of that. She said trying to do her shipping labels online with USPS or UPS online can be a challenge.

Beyond the website, there are several new pieces of technology that Hamilton’s would be able to implement to help with their business.

Larry Hamilton said there are sensors they could set up by the sap tanks to let them know when they’re full. He said there are also monitoring systems that would help detect leaks.

“We’ve gotta have internet to use our cell phones to check vacuum pumps or start and stop vacuum pumps and check tank levels,” Larry said.

Collins also met with some of the county commissioners and Michele Moore of the Potter County Education Council. They shared their vision and plan for seniors2seniors and talked about the importance of bringing broadband internet access.

Commissioner Susan Kefover said the county has 5,000 seasonal homes.

“So many of those people have businesses. They’d love to move them here or expand them here, but they need that fiber optic,” Kefover said.

Gerski said bringing broadband internet here will help with the economy for that reason.

Gerski said where there is internet, the speeds may be very slow, which doesn’t help them much.

“We live where people visit. People down in Harrisburg or Pittsburgh … you know why them come here? Because it’s so beautiful. What if we could keep them here and build these communities back up to what they used to be?,” Gerski said. “They’re not going to come without broadband.”