$50M to boost internet in N.J.

NEWTON. Rep. Josh Gottheimer says federal funds will ensure that every family has access to high-quality, high-speed, affordable internet service.

| 04 Jun 2024 | 10:24

A $50 million federal investment will fund fiber-optic technology and the last-mile infrastructure needed to build resilient and reliable networks in Sussex County and rural communities across New Jersey, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5, said May 28.

It will ensure that every family has access to high-quality, high-speed, affordable internet service, the congressman said during a visit to Planet Networks, a high-speed internet provider based in Newton.

The money will be made available through the New Jersey Broadband Infrastructure Development Equity (NJBIDE) program.

“Sussex County is eligible, and so our local towns, and county officials here are already meeting with NJBIDE officials,” Gottheimer said.

“I’m also working closely with the state and the Board of Public Utilities, or BPU, to ensure they have what they need from the county and our towns so that the applications get in and dollars come back here as promised. Local nonprofits and internet providers also qualify for funding.”

Once formally released and delivered, the federal funds “will help build on the great strides we’ve made in broadband infrastructure over the last few years and continue to improve access for families, students, schools, small businesses and health care,” he said.

“Today’s announcement is incredibly encouraging for Sussex County, but I want to urge the governor and the BPU to ensure that we move fast to get these dollars out the door and get Sussex County what it deserves.”

The BPU will begin its application process in the coming weeks, then submit projects for approval to the Treasury Department by the end of this year, he said.

Like water, power

Gottheimer, who previously worked at the Federal Communications Commission and ran a nonprofit organization that helped communities get online, pointed out that today, “broadband connectivity is absolutely essential to almost every part of life.” “We rely on the internet to get an education and entertainment, work, access health care, and connect with our friends and loved ones. Nowadays, it’s as basic as running water or electricity.

“Too many kids have to drive to the local library or McDonald’s and sit in the parking lot to get connected and do their homework. And many seniors can’t get online from their home for a doctor’s appointment, which makes things even harder when your doctor is far away or you have a mobility issue.”

He added, “Despite how far we’ve come, we still have many families, especially in our Jersey rural communities here and in South Jersey, that lack high-speed connectivity. We have towns like Hardyston, Lafayette, Montague, Sandyston, Wantage and West Milford, where fewer than half of households have access to fiber, high-speed internet. It may sound audacious, but I’m focused on doing even more.”

Gottheimer helped pass legislation to create the NJBIDE program. Under it, nonprofits, cooperatives, utilities, internet providers and towns may seek funding to build infrastructure.

A year ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said New Jersey will receive about $264 million to deploy affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service. That money came from the more than $42 billion in the nationwide Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

On May 28, Gottheimer said New Jersey will receive a total of $523 million through the “Internet for All” initiative, a collection of federal programs from the Commerce and Treasury departments and the Federal Communications Commission that build broadband infrastructure and ensure Americans have the devices they need to get online.

Affordable internet

The congressman also discussed the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which he helped establish through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. It helps families, Pell Grant recipients and veterans afford high-speed broadband services, including monthly internet bills, installation fees and computer expenses.

The ACP provides eligible households with up to $30 a month toward their internet bills and a one-time subsidy of $100 toward desktop, laptop or tablet computers.

“This program, which helps 20 million American households get online, risks running out of this month,” he said. “I’ve been sounding the alarm in Congress, doing everything that I can to get investment for ACP.”

Last year, Gottheimer and more than 40 House members sent a bipartisan letter to congressional leaders, urging them to bring a bill extending the ACP program to the floor. In April, he worked with the Problem Solvers Caucus to endorse the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, which would extend the ACP program through the end of this year.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but the race isn’t over. We need to power through over the coming months and years to ensure that every last household gets connected - and that places like Sussex can use the internet to grow and prosper.

“It’s going to take continued collaboration with our providers, state and local leaders, and our great community partners around the state.”

- In towns like Hardyston, Lafayette, Montague, Sandyston, Wantage and West Milford, fewer than half of households have access to fiber, high-speed internet.
- Just five years ago, one in six people in New Jersey - more than 1.4 million people - lacked broadband access at home.
- Fifteen percent of Americans - nearly 50 million people - rely solely on their smartphone to access the internet.
- One in five U.S. households aren’t connected to the internet.
- U.S. households pay an average of $118 a month for internet and cable service.