RELEASE: Gottheimer Urges State to Take Immediate Action to Release Federal Broadband Investments to Boost Connectivity in Sussex & Warren Counties

Will Expand Access for Families, Small Businesses, Schools, Health Care, & Will Stimulate Local Economy. Urges Counties to Utilize ARP Resources for Broadband.

 

Above: Gottheimer in Blairstown today. 

BLAIRSTOWN, NJ — Today, April 25, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) urged the State of New Jersey to take immediate action to release the federal investments clawed back to New Jersey for expanded broadband access in Sussex and Warren Counties and beyond. He also urged Sussex and Warren County utilize federal resources, too. 

Nearly a year ago, Gottheimer stood with the Governor and many state and local elected officials, to highlight the $190 million that he helped New Jersey secure from the 2021 COVID-19 emergency relief package, also known as the American Rescue Plan (ARP), to expand and improve broadband access for more rural areas of New Jersey, including in Warren and Sussex Counties, and to other communities that lack high-speed connectivity.

After more than a year, the federal broadband resources allocated to the State of New Jersey from the American Rescue Plan have not yet been distributed.

“After more than a year, the state-allocated broadband resources from the American Rescue Plan have not been distributed and are still sitting in the state’s coffers. Appointments still haven’t been made to the 19-member Broadband Access Study Commission panel, which will ensure that investments are distributed appropriately. I’m asking the State to please take immediate action to release the federal investments clawed back to New Jersey for expanded broadband access here in Sussex and Warren Counties and beyond,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “I’m focused on working with the State and our local counties to immediately get out the resources and investments I helped claw back to New Jersey from Washington for expanded broadband in rural areas. Once released, these federal dollars 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 healthcare.”

Gottheimer also strongly encouraged the county governments in Sussex and Warren to utilize resources allocated to them, and received, through the American Rescue Plan for broadband deployment and connectivity. Gottheimer helped claw back $27.25 million to the Sussex County government and $20.42 million to the Warren County government, as well as federal investment to each individual Fifth District town, to help with COVID-related expenses, including for infrastructure, sewer, and broadband.

The White House recently estimated 30 million Americans live in areas that lack broadband infrastructure to provide minimally acceptable speeds. In fact, public reporting from last year using data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Microsoft showed that only 44% of Sussex County households have broadband and only 46% of Warren County households have broadband.  

Gottheimer was joined today outside the Blairstown Township Municipal Building by Blairstown Mayor Rob Moorhead, Hardwick Mayor Chris Jacksic, and Belvidere Councilman Joseph Roth.

Legislation Gottheimer Has Helped Lead and Pass to Expand Broadband Access in North Jersey:

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021: Gottheimer clawed back $190 million to the State of New Jersey to expand and improve broadband access for more rural areas of New Jersey, including in Warren and Sussex Counties, and to other communities that lack high-speed connectivity. These broadband resources allocated to the State of New Jersey have not been distributed. Resources in the American Rescue Plan also go directly to every single county and town government in New Jersey, which resulted in $27.25 million directly to Sussex County’s government and $20.42 million to the Warren County government.  

2020 Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Package: Gottheimer helped negotiate this package and it was shaped by legislation originally written and agreed upon by the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group Gottheimer co-chairs, and senators from both sides of the aisle. The package included resources for broadband programs nationwide, and established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help low-income households access broadband and the COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help healthcare providers treat COVID patients through connected care technologies. Eight health care providers in Jersey received investments, totaling nearly $4.5 million clawed back to our state. This included more than $700,000 for Zufall Health Center, which has locations in Newton and Hackettstown.

Below: Gottheimer in Blairstown’s relay station that helps deliver broadband throughout the community.

 

Video of today’s announcement can be found here.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

It’s great to be back in Blairstown today. Nearly a year ago, standing with the Governor and many of our state and local elected officials, we celebrated the $190 million that I helped New Jersey secure from the 2020 COVID emergency relief package, also known as the American Rescue Plan (ARP), to expand and improve broadband access for more rural areas of New Jersey, including in Warren and Sussex Counties, and to other communities that lack high-speed connectivity. 
 
I want to thank so many folks here who have been critical partners in the fight for broadband over the years, including State Senator Oroho, Assemblymen Space and Wirths, our local mayors including Knowlton Mayor Adele Starrs, Belvidere Mayor Joe Kennedy, Hope Mayor Tim McDonough, Blairstown Mayor Rob Moorhead, Hardwick Mayor Chris Jacksic, Former Hardwick Mayor and now Councilman Kevin Duffy, former Frelinghuysen Mayor and now Councilman Chris Stracco, and so many others. We’ve worked well together at every level of government, and with our private sector partners, to get both Sussex and Warren County better connected.  
 
Working with all of you, we’ve fought for broadband infrastructure investments to bring greater connectivity to communities in Sussex and Warren Counties – and we’ve had some great successes over the last few years.  Thanks to a lot of push with our local providers, and federal, state, and local action, our communities are certainly more connected than they’ve ever been. 
 
Add to it these new federal American Rescue Plan resources clawed back from Washington to Jersey more than a year ago, and the towns here in Warren and Sussex Counties should have had the ability to put this new federal investment for broadband expansion to work – for our families, schools, medical centers, and small businesses. 
 
But, unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. It seems like those dollars are wrapped up in red tape. I think we’d all like to get them to work to help get quality, high-speed broadband out to folks. 
 
After more than a year, the state-allocated broadband resources from the American Rescue Plan have not been distributed and are still sitting in the state’s coffers. Appointments still haven’t been made to the 19-member Broadband Access Study Commission panel, which will ensure that investments are distributed appropriately.  I’m asking the state to please take immediate action to release the federal investments clawed back to New Jersey for expanded broadband access here in Sussex and Warren Counties and beyond. 
 
These investments will expand connectivity to rural communities, families, small businesses, schools, and healthcare — and help stimulate our local economy. 
 
I also want to strongly encourage the county governments in Sussex and Warren to utilize resources we allocated to them, and they’ve received, through the American Rescue Plan for broadband deployment and connectivity. We’ve distributed $27.25 million to Sussex and $20.42 million to Warren County to help with COVID-related expenses, including for infrastructure, sewer, and broadband. 
 
They can help amplify the resources we sent directly to all seventy-nine towns in the Fifth District, and I believe they are already working closely with many communities to make this happen. Counties across America are utilizing these resources for broadband in their communities, and we should be doing it here. Imagine how it can help with our work-from-home workforce, our schools, our hospitals, and our small businesses, including our farms.   
 
Now, as we wait for the state and county to release these federal resources, there is some good news about other broad investment resources. 
 
I helped claw back broadband resources for Warren and Sussex Counties, including in the COVID CARES 2 package, which I helped negotiate at the end of the last Administration. It included resources for broadband programs nationwide, and established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help low-income households access broadband and the COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help healthcare providers treat COVID patients through connected care technologies.   
 
Why have we all been fighting for this issue for so long?  Well, first off, I think it’s fair to say that here in 2022, not having access to high-speed broadband is like not having water in your home. The pandemic only made that much clearer, when broadband was an absolute necessity for school, work, telehealth, and seeing friends and family. And, according to projections from data scientists at Ladders, a leading source for professional career news, 25 percent of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022. 
 
A Gartner study even projected that 48 percent of employees will keep working remotely at least some of the time after COVID-19. Here in New Jersey, a poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University last year found that while 51 percent of New Jersey workers started working from home during the pandemic, 26 percent of them say they don’t think they will ever go back to the office. If the connectivity works, they could all be working from their homes in beautiful Sussex and Warren Counties. 
 
But, right now, far too many communities right here in Jersey have swaths of their towns that are literally unconnected, or basically have dial-up service. You can imagine the impact that’s having on them, on their families and children, on their schools and small businesses, on their public health and safety.
 
Just a few months ago, the White House estimated 30 million Americans live in areas that lack broadband infrastructure to provide minimally acceptable speeds. And a 2021 report, put out with the help of Rutgers University, showed that, while internet access has greatly increased since 2015, one in seven children still do not have high-speed internet access at home. 
 
The digital divide and its real impact could not be any starker than if you drive around right here in Northwestern New Jersey.
 
In fact, public reporting from last year using data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Microsoft showed that in Sussex County, only 44 percent of households have broadband, and right here in Warren County, that percentage was only slightly higher: with 46 percent of households having broadband.  
 
What that means is that some students in Sussex and Warren don’t have a strong connection to do homework online; residents don’t have a strong connection to do work from home; small businesses can’t take orders online; it means waiting three hours to download an episode of Stranger Things; or no sturdy connection to access an online bank account or see a doctor or post a resume on LinkedIn.
 
For many students, that means sitting outside the library or a McDonalds to do your homework.  That’s unacceptable. 
 
I’ve heard from Blairstown Mayor Moorhead that his municipal building has terrible broadband, and to make matters worse, it’s the hub for broadband for the entire downtown area.
 
How can we expect a teacher to execute their curriculum that requires internet access or a student to do their homework if their connection doesn’t operate at a high speed — if they can even connect at all?
 
Last year, it was reported that a whopping 21 percent of homes in Sussex County town Montague did not have broadband internet. I’ve even heard stories from Sussex County leaders of educators in Newton registering upload and download speeds of less than 1 megabits per second.
 
I remember members of the Newton Robotics Team told me once that it would take upwards of ten minutes to load their Google Drive folders to do their homework. Students need this broadband infrastructure to have access to each other, to their teachers, and information. It’s not a luxury – it’s a necessity. 
 
For many of our towns, it’s hard to get people and businesses to move here, and that will continue to be an issue until we more fully solve it. 
 
Now, thanks to all of us working together, and having tough conversations with our local providers, we’ve made some progress. We’re a ton more connected than we were when we first sat down about five years ago. But we’re not there yet. And we need to utilize these resources, and continue working with partners like Planet Network, Altice, and Comcast, until we get connectivity to every home and town hall.  
 
Otherwise, we risk destroying our state’s economic potential.
 
That’s why I’m here today. To focus on working with the State and our local counties to immediately get out the resources and investments I helped claw back to New Jersey from Washington for expanded broadband in rural areas. Once released, these federal dollars 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 healthcare.  
 
For example, the December 2020 COVID CARES 2 package — which I helped lead and was shaped by legislation originally written and agreed upon by the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group I co-chair, and senators from both sides of the aisle — included investments for a new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program for unemployed or qualifying low-income households. That program launched last year. 
 
Additionally, the package included investment for health care providers to treat COVID-19 through connected care technologies. Eight health care providers in Jersey received investments, totaling nearly $4.5 million clawed back to our state. This included more than $700,000 for Zufall Health Center, which has locations in Newton and Hackettstown.
 
I knew how important resources to boost our rural broadband would be as we recover and rebound from the pandemic. That’s why I also fought for resources in the American Rescue Plan to go directly to every single county and town government in New Jersey. 
 
That’s resulted in $27.25 million directly to Sussex County’s government, the $20.42 million for Warren County. We also fought for and clawed back direct dollars to each and every town, too — all of which, if the counties and local governments want, can be invested in broadband connectivity for our residents.
 
And I personally fought for — alongside my bipartisan partners in the Senate — to include in the ARP COVID relief package a separate set of resources to go to every state for significant infrastructure projects, including, as I mentioned earlier, $190 million that can be used to expand broadband access for rural and low- and moderate-income areas of New Jersey. These are the federal dollars that are sitting with the state and must be released to Northwestern New Jersey to expand broadband.  
 
In the coming days, I will be sending a letter to the Governor and our counties, reiterating the importance of releasing these federal investments to expand broadband access here in North Jersey. 
 
Also included in the ARP package is the FCC Emergency Connectivity Fund — including resources for schools — whether they are public, private, or religious schools — to help them purchase broadband devices such as tablets, hotspots, and routers. Grant applications for eligible schools open this week on Thursday and close May 13. I’m reaching out to all of our schools about this opportunity.
 
Clawing back these federal dollars is so important because the costs to connect rural areas with cables and fiber can be especially high. In conversations with our local service providers, they say they could deploy a mile of fiber a day — but that comes with an incredibly hefty price tag, and access to capital poses a significant barrier.  These direct resources will help us address these issues and will help close the digital divide and grow small businesses, expand job opportunities, improve health care quality and access, and support online learning for children. 
 
You all get this – all of our mayors, councils, elected officials, hospitals, and families here in Blairstown and across Warren and Sussex Counties. We’ve been working together for years on it. It’s key to the future of Jersey – to the strength of our economy, to our farms, to our schools, to our hospitals, and to our families. It’s as vital as electricity. 
 
I look forward to working with the County Commissioners, Governor, and their teams to get these critical federal investments to the families, students, hospitals, and small businesses of Northwestern New Jersey, who all deserve the broadband connectivity they need to work, learn, and do business today and beyond.
 
I know with great partners in our community we have the motivation to make this happen. 
 
Here in the greatest country in the world, with all of us working together — across the aisle — Democrats and Republicans — and at every level: federally, state, and locally, I know our best days will always be ahead of us. 
 
Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.
 
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