COUDERSPORT — Tri-Co Connections held its launch event on Friday to celebrate the very near beginning of quality, high-speed broadband access to Potter County.

The Kightlinger Motors showroom was packed with people who have helped this project along and politicians who have supported the Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative’s vision to bring broadband access here.

Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, through its high-speed internet subsidiary, Tri-Co Connections, has been working to bring access to high-speed internet to the entire Tri-County service territory. The project is estimated to take six years and deploy 2,800 miles of fiber line. The first 50 lines of fiber were deployed in Coudersport and are expected to be connected in the next few weeks.

“Back in the 1930s, Tri-County transformed this area by bringing electric power to rural northern Pennsylvania … We’re about to transform this area a second time, bringing optical fiber through broadband to rural PA,” Matthew Whiting, chair of the Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative board, said.

Whiting said broadband will have just as much impact as the electricity did; it will give people here the opportunity to have better healthcare, remote education, run and expand businesses and overall improve their quality of life.

The project is more than “just” internet, Craig Eccher, president and CEO of Tri-County REC said.

“Telemedicine is happening now, but you need good broadband to make that happen. We serve … a high elderly population, telemedicine isn’t the answer for everything, trust me, but it is when it takes you a half an hour to 40 minutes to get to a doctor’s appointment, where you could do that from your house,” Eccher said. Eccher also spoke on how students will be able to work on their school assignments at home and take advantage of online learning.

Congressman Fred Keller echoed that.

“We always talk about infrastructure and everybody thinks about roads and bridges and all that kind of stuff. But this is infrastructure, this is the information highway to which was spoken about, how we get education, how we get health care and how commerce happens,” Keller said.

“...broadband means the difference between being behind and staying ahead,” Keller said.

State Rep. Martin Causer, who represents the majority of Potter County, said he thinks this will be a model across the Commonwealth and to other rural electric cooperatives.

Tri-County is the first Pennsylvania electric co-op to take on fiber optics, but even nationally, there aren’t many co-ops that have.

“We know that broadband is not a luxury. I hear some folks in Harrisburg talk about broadband as if it’s a luxury in some sort. It’s not, it’s a necessity. It’s an essential service,” Causer said. “The key to survival in rural Pennsylvania is to have that connectivity to be able to move forward, so I’m happy to be here with all of you today for this, this exciting rollout of this project.”

State Representative Clint Owlett said the 68th District, which includes parts of Potter County and all of Tioga County, is full of creative people who have entrepreneurial minds and want to start their own businesses in rural communities.

“What has been holding them back? Limited, or completely non-existent broadband,” Owlett said. He said there are reliable internet opinions within the boroughs and towns, but once one ventures out beyond that, internet access is limited.

Owlett said broadband access will allow the 68th District to attract employers, schools to use new technology, farmers to connect to new equipment and will bring telemedicine to those who don’t want to or can’t travel out to a doctor’s office.

“Today is an exciting day because today we get to show the rest of the Commonwealth, and really the nation, what it looks like when we connect some of the most remote and rural areas to high speed internet through our rural electric co-ops,” Owlett said.

Sheri Collins, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives, said this was an exciting day and a celebration of collaboration, cooperation, commitment and “just pure grit.”

“This does not get done without all of you working together,” Collins said.

“...Today is truly a historic moment in Pennsylvania and Coudersport, but also across the world because I think what you’re doing here today is really raising the bar for the rest of the country to get on board, and really solve the issue that we have with the digital divide,” Collins said.