Federal and state lawmakers are focusing on legislation to improve broadband access in areas across the state like Sussex and Warren counties where help is needed.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer recently announced new steps to help make sure federal coronavirus relief investment for broadband support is delivered to both Sussex and Warren Counties, while State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24) is a cosponsor of bipartisan legislation approved by the State Senate to help pave the way for high-speed broadband internet access to forgotten areas across the state.
Oroho sponsored S-2864, with State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-7) to establish the Broadband Access Study Commission to evaluate the feasibility of establishing community networks to deliver state-of-the-art internet speeds to the public. The commission would complete a comprehensive study of the success and failures of similar networks around the country, the costs to construct and maintain networks, and the charges subscribers would pay for monthly access.
“Some rural and low-income areas have been ignored by internet providers who are reluctant to invest in the necessary infrastructure,” said Oroho (R-24) in a press statement. “High-speed internet is a necessity in our world today, but there are too many homes and communities that lack the broadband service many of us take for granted.”
The issue has come to the forefront as the need for reliable broadband internet has been highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic as students attend remote learning, employees are working from home, and virtual meetings on Zoom and other conferencing formats have become commonplace.
“In one of the richest, most modernized countries in the world, it is shameful that so many communities across New Jersey, and throughout our nation, do not have broadband access to the internet,” said Singleton (D-7). “For more than 20 years, the internet has been integral to our lives, even more so now when the majority of us are working, learning and socializing remotely.”
Singleton added “Building community broadband is a necessary step to keep our residents connected to their jobs, schools, family and friends, and this study commission will determine the feasibility of putting that infrastructure in place.”
The commission created by the legislation would consider the logistics of developing community broadband networks and report on its findings to the governor and the legislature within a year of the first meeting.
“This may be our best option to bring state-of-the-art internet service to households that have thus far missed out on this game-changing technology,” Oroho added.
For Gottheimer, he is looking to connect local officials and internet providers to the right broadband resources to help improve connectivity for local residents and businesses. He recently joined the bipartisan Rural Broadband Caucus, to work with Democrats and Republicans in the House to advance broadband solutions that benefit rural areas like Sussex and Warren counties.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing more of our learning, working, and daily business online, we need to continue working to expand access to high-speed broadband, get costs down, and make it easier to install the infrastructure necessary to connect our homes, schools, and businesses to the broadband we all need,” said the congressman.
To that end, Gottheimer called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—a federal agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce which is overseeing some of the coronavirus relief package’s broadband grants—to make Sussex and Warren counties eligible for federal investment as NTIA develops their guidelines.
Sussex, Warren Needs
Additionally, he has requested NTIA meet with local officials and stakeholders in Sussex and Warren Counties for feedback as the agency forms guidelines to distribute the resources for broadband that Congress passed in the December 2020 coronavirus relief package.
“Too often, the guidelines for federal grant programs that are investing in broadband infrastructure are too restrictive, causing many communities that are in dire need of connectivity upgrades to go without the dollars they need to implement those upgrades,” said Gottheimer. “We need to make sure these guidelines reflect the needs of communities across Sussex and Warren Counties, so that everyone has a shot.”