Millions of dollars in federal funds could soon bring high-speed internet to the state’s rural and low and middle-income communities.
Gov. Phil Murphy and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) on Friday announced funding for broadband expansion from a $190 million fund provided to the state under the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill President Joe Biden signed into law in March.
“Every New Jerseyan deserves access to reliable, affordable, and fast broadband internet,” Murphy. “Unfortunately, too many residents and businesses, especially in rural and low-income areas of our state, are still unable to take advantage of broadband internet access.”
The pandemic exposed inequities in internet access across the state. As the virus pushed students out of the school buildings and into remote classrooms, many found themselves without suitable devices and connections.
Officials say the device gap has been bridged, but issues over connection speeds persist.
“Ensuring the most hard-to-reach areas of New Jersey have access to high-speed Internet is an absolute necessity, especially in light of the last year” Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso said. “It is crucial that we close the digital divide so our schoolchildren and businesses have the same educational and economic advantages regardless of where they are located.”
Murphy earlier this week conditionally vetoed a bipartisan bill establishing a commission to study broadband access in New Jersey to bring it under the auspices of the BPU and expand its membership.
The Assembly concurred with the conditional veto in a near-unanimous 70-2 vote, with one member abstaining, on Thursday.
“The creation of the Broadband Access Study Commission will examine the logistics of developing community broadband networks in order to deliver high-speed internet access, especially to underserved communities like many in rural areas,” said State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Franklin). “From a competitive standpoint, closing the digital divide is a must.”