By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Bob Casey is teaming up with state officials in efforts to retain more than $23-million in federal funding – declined by Verizon – to expand broadband internet to people living in rural parts of the state.

Senator Casey’s letter to the Federal Communications Commission says “losing this funding would be unfair” to folks in rural and high-cost areas:

“We still have substantial portions of our state, by the F.C.C.’s estimate, 20-percent of rural Pennsylvania gets no broadband.”

Casey says that’s “contrary to the F.C.C.’s goal of ensuring broadband access to all:”

“How do you run a business? How do you operate a family farm? Because of the lack of broadband access, children cannot complete their homework assignments in the way we would hope.”

That $23-million in declined money represents more than 45-percent of total federal allotment to the state to build out high-speed, broadband internet service to rural locations.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and Casey are trying to prevent the F.C.C. from transferring the money to out of state broadband providers.

A Verizon spokesman declined to say why it turned down the federal money. He did say that Verizon meets the obligation of Pennsylvania law (commonly called Chapter 30) to offer broadband to any customer who requests it.

The state law allows for much slower speeds than the federal program.