By: Helena Perray, Writer / Follow South Jersey Community Resources Intern
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey will use $190 million in American Rescue Plan funds for capital projects, including providing affordable and reliable broadband internet to rural and low-income areas of New Jersey.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many local businesses and schools alike have been forced to acclimate to an online work environment. According to Gov. Murphy, many low-income residents within some parts of New Jersey have not had necessary access to broadband internet services.
The availability of high-speed internet for all state residents is a “matter of equity,” said Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson in a press release.
Access to these services is needed to maintain efficient working operations, and is now in the works with the allocation of $190 million in COVID-19 relief package funds.
The state will receive these funds following President Biden’s signing of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund in March – part of the American Rescue Plan.
“For the sake of our families, economy, schools, and health care, we must continue fighting for communities across Warren and Sussex Counties to help boost their broadband connectivity,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer in a press release. “… Now, every county and town in Sussex and Warren County will be clawing back federal dollars that they can use to improve connectivity.”
The need for widespread broadband access comes as a result of the digital divide that unaffordable internet has brought to those who are learning and working virtually.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated both a need for connectivity and the reality that many New Jersey communities risk falling behind in their social and professional lives without it.
“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,” New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Joseph L. Fiordaliso said in a release.
In addition to Broadband expansion in these counties, a Broadband Access Study Commission that will further examine statewide internet access is currently under review within the state’s legislature.
“High-speed internet is an absolute necessity in our world today, yet there are too many homes and communities in New Jersey that lack the broadband service many of us take for granted,” said Senator Steven Oroho in a press release. “…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.”
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.