People across the globe turned to remote learning, working, and recreation during the pandemic, and New Jersey residents were no exception. And under a recently-signed law, they will likely have a stronger internet connection if they are ever forced to stay at home again.
The bill, sponsored by Assembly members Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-31), Robert Karabinchak (D-18), Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-15), and State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24), will create a commission to study the feasibility of establishing community broadband networks in the state.
Community broadband networks are community-owned infrastructure which can connect certain geographical areas to the greater Internet, and are often useful in rural areas that are too remote for providers to develop.
“Working from home, attending online classes, speaking with doctors, shopping for essentials and staying in touch with loved ones are just some of the many ways the internet is used every day by our residents,” said Karabinchak. “Without access to reliable internet—none of that is possible. That’s why we need this commission to look into community broadband networks that could potentially provide affordable service to our least-connected communities.”
The effort echoes federal efforts, with Rep. Josh Gottheimer working to secure funding for broadband improvements in Sussex and Warren counties.
Under the law, a 19-person commission will be established to investigate the issue, which is quite dire: Census Bureau data shows that New Jerseyans in the lowest income brackets have about half the access to the internet as wealthier brackets.
Best Solutions for New Jersey
The commission will evaluate what factors are impeding access to broadband service for all residents, and will determine if there are advantages to utilizing established broadband infrastructure. Additionally, it will focus on cost-effective methods for establishing networks by studying other areas of the country that have used similar programs.
The commission will be responsible for investigating all possible funding sources for the project, amid other duties. In one year, it will report to the Governor its findings.
“The creation of the Broadband Access Study Commission will evaluate alternatives to bring the high-speed evolution to these forgotten residents and help close the digital divide,” said Oroho.
Helping Residents in New Normal
Reynolds-Jackson framed the law as a way to increase equity, as those without internet access were destined to be left behind in an evolving labor and education market.
“We cannot let any New Jersey family get left behind simply because they live in an area that private companies do not find lucrative or because they don’t make enough to afford expensive internet charges. This commission will help us understand how to make the idea of a broadband network—which would have the best interests of local communities in mind—a reality,” she said.
Additionally, Karabinchak argued the law would help those trying to survive under a new normal.
“Working from home, attending online classes, speaking with doctors, shopping for essentials and staying in touch with loved ones are just some of the many ways the internet is used every day by our residents,” he said. “Without access to reliable internet—none of that is possible. That’s why we need this commission to look into community broadband networks that could potentially provide affordable service to our least-connected communities.”