As part of ongoing efforts to expand broadband internet service throughout the State, Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Herb Conaway and Daniel Benson sponsor a bill to establish an office within the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to assist in providing and expanding service for those with limited access.
The measure was based on recommendations from the coronavirus recovery Economic Advisory Council, established by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. The council was formed with the purpose of providing the State Legislature with ideas to help New Jersey recover from COVID-19.
Under the bill (A-4808), a ‘Broadband Assistance Office’ would be established in the BPU to handle a number of responsibilities. In conjunction with several other State offices, this office would be responsible for mapping internet connectivity in New Jersey and coordinating financial and technical assistance for communities lacking service.
The Broadband Assistance Office would also be responsible for encouraging public and/or private entity involvement in providing internet service to those communities. The office would not only approve qualified entities’ proposed broadband projects, but also oversee, coordinate and provide assistance to any projects it authorizes.
The BPU would then have to prepare a report each year for the Governor and Legislature explaining the various projects underway and how they are helping local municipalities.
Upon the legislation passing the full Assembly by a vote of 70-0-1, Assemblymen Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset), Conaway (D-Burlington) and Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex) issued the following joint statement:
“In this day and age, it is simply unacceptable that nearly one-third of Americans lack access to broadband internet service at home. We rely on the internet for so many aspects of our day-to-day lives, especially in the middle of a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing now.
“New Jersey residents in underserved communities, which tend to be low-income urban and rural areas, deserve a concerted effort to bring internet service to their areas. We must make it our goal to address the inequities residents face as a result of limited access to this critical service.
“A central office responsible for gathering information on gaps in service, encouraging broadband projects in those areas and coordinating the execution of those projects would help make that goal a reality.”