State and Federal New Jersey Lawmakers Seek to Expand Statewide Broadband Access

The importance of reliable broadband internet has been highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic as students attend classes online and employees work from home. With the increasing digital divide in the state being made more apparent, New Jersey lawmakers have taken steps recently to provide expanded broadband internet access for residents.

In March 15, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, representative of the Fifth District, laid out how Northwestern New Jersey’s local communities can use the federal dollars from coronavirus relief package to invest in improving broadband connectivity for families, students, schools and businesses.

Rep. Gottheimer fought for $10 billion of federal funding nationwide for broadband and infrastructure improvements. New Jersey is expected to receive $190 million of that investment, and Gottheimer is urging the Governor to invest some of those resources for broadband improvements in Warren and Sussex Counties.

American Rescue Monies

“I think it’s fair to say that we learned a lot—and were forced to adapt quickly—when life shut down a year ago, and businesses, schools, and families across our state were forced to quarantine,” said Rep. Gottheimer. “Together, with our local mayors and the key internet service providers in the region, we’ve been fighting this fight for years—to get all of our communities connected with actual broadband.

“The American Rescue Plan will help change that, and, working together, I’m confident that we can finally bring connectivity to every corner of the Fifth District,” added Gottheimer.

That moves was followed by the State Senate Economic Growth Committee advanced legislation to create a new Broadband Assistance Office in the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The bill was sponsored by State Sens. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and Nicholas Scutari (D-22).

Statewide Plan

Under the bill, S-3086, the office would formulate and execute a statewide plan to provide wired broadband service through government and private entity participation. They would coordinate financial and technical assistance to communities with households and small businesses that cannot afford to receive broadband service or areas within municipalities that lack adequate broadband service.

“Access to equipment was and remains critical during this time and the infrastructure to support it is just as necessary,” said Ruiz. “While many students are returning to the classroom, high-quality internet access continues to play an integral part in our everyday lives during the pandemic and beyond. Expanding access to broadband will ensure every household and business around the state can get the internet service they need.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored what we already knew to be true—in today’s day and age internet access is a necessity. Look no further than remote learning, virtual doctor visits and a vaccine registration site hosted almost entirely online,” commented Scutari. “We have a responsibility to our residents to ensure high-quality internet services are available and accessible to all New Jerseyans, regardless of their income or their zip code.”

Broadband Access

Additional state legislation passed the State Senate to help pave the way for high-speed broadband internet access in underserved areas across the state is on its way to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for consideration. The bipartisan bill sponsored by State Sens. Steve Oroho (R-24) and Troy Singleton (D-7), A-850, would 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.

“High-speed internet is a necessity in today’s word, but there are too many homes and communities that lack the broadband service many of us take for granted,” said Oroho. “Some rural and low-income areas have been ignored by internet providers who are reluctant to invest in the necessary infrastructure. The commission created by this bill would consider an alternative to bring the digital evolution to these residents.”

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.

“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,” opined Singleton. “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.”

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