Today, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) tackled the challenges of connectivity and rural broadband in Hardwick. A representative from the USDA’s connectivity grant programs discussed available federal resources for businesses, municipalities, and internet service providers. Hardwick’s Mayor James Perry and Hope’s Mayor Timothy McDonough described their current difficulties with Internet access.
“Sussex County has some of the lowest access to broadband Internet in the state of New Jersey: less than 20% of the county has access to download speeds greater than 100mbps. The worst of any county in the entire state. Put another way, that means it could take 35 minutes and 47 seconds to download an episode of Game of Thrones. Compare that to most of Bergen County, just 50 miles away, where Fios speed is more than 50 times as fast – 500 mbps download and 300 mbps upload. It would only take 34 seconds to download an episode,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “If North Jersey, and its rural communities, are going to thrive and compete in the global economy of the future, we must commit ourselves to making sure that it has access to the medium on which that economy runs.”
“Mayor McDonough, Mayor Starr, and I have worked very hard for a long time on trying to move our North Warren community out of the 1990s and into modern times,” said Hardwick Mayor James Perry. “As a computer tech in this area, many of my business customers throughout North Warren and those people that work from home — as well as the students that need to complete schoolwork — will all be benefiting from the hard work that our elected officials have done on this issue.”
“I want to thank Congressman Gottheimer for being out in front on this, as he has been on most issues. Back in June, he invited a bunch of Mayors to Washington and we went down and one of the first things we talked about there was broadband service.” said Hope Mayor Timothy McDonough. “A year ago, we had a nice young family move into Hope — three young children in the Hope School System. The Mom and Pop do business out of their homes. They called me last week and said ‘we’re moving out of Hope. We cannot get internet services to run our businesses and our kids don’t want to be here. They can’t get on their computers and do the things they want to do.'”
Video of Gottheimer’s remarks can be found HERE.
Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below.
On the last day of my tour of all 79 towns in the District early this summer, I visited with First Hope Bank, and asked them the same thing I ask every business I visit in my district: what’s working, and what’s not working? What do you need from us, your elected officials, to help your business hire those next ten or twenty employees; or to access new markets around the world; or to develop that next product, or open up that next location?
And their answer was loud and clear: access to high-quality, affordable, fast broadband Internet.
In the past few decades, we’ve witnessed one of the single greatest upheavals in the way we do work since the industrial revolution. It’s almost too cliché to say that the Internet has changed everything; it’s not a luxury or a competitive advantage anymore; it’s essential infrastructure, as important as reliable electricity, running water, and safe roads and bridges.
Getting a job. Doing your homework. Selling your products. Accessing your medical records. None of these things are even possible anymore without access to the Internet.
And yet, even here in northern Jersey, in parts of Sussex and Warren, lack of access to broadband Internet is preventing some of our residents and our businesses from reaching their potential.
Just next door, in Sussex County, most of which is in my District, has some of the lowest access to broadband Internet in the state of New Jersey: less than 20% of the county has access to download speeds greater than 100mbps. The worst of any county in the entire state. Speeds in Hope are 10 down and 10 mbps up. Put another way, that means it could take 35 minutes and 47 seconds to download an episode of Game of Thrones. Compare that to most of Bergen County, just 50 miles away, where Fios speed is more than 50 times as fast – 500 mbps download and 300 mbps upload. It would only take 34 seconds to download an episode.
In Mahwah, New Jersey, the broadband speeds are so fast, that the New York Stock Exchange built their entire backend. I’ve visited – it’s literally a warehouse several football fields long of broadband wires and servers – and lightening fast broadband.
Put this into context here in Warren and next door in Sussex, and it’s nearly impossible for a business to compete with download speeds one-fiftieth of the average speed in Paramus or Hackensack.
Now, let’s put this into the context of safety.
Hardwick’s own town hall, which serves as it’s Office of Emergency Management, is hamstrung by Internet speeds as slow as dial-up – a public safety liability for the whole community.
And, of course, as is too often the case, the divide between who has access to quality broadband Internet and who doesn’t falls along familiar lines: urban versus rural; low-income versus better to do.
Within New Jersey, geography and income are the most transparent dividers of Internet access at home. 48 percent of households with an annual income less than $20,000 are able to get online, compared to the 94 percent of households earning at least $75,000. Households earning $35,000 a year or less have only a slightly higher rate at 55 percent – that’s just slightly lower than the median household in nearby Phillipsburg.
It shouldn’t matter how much you make or where you live to be connected. Not in this day and age when connectivity and online skills are the key to competing in the new economy – to getting a first-rate education, to collaborating with your peers, to applying for college or a job, to paying your bills or accessing your town hall or the news.
As more and more of our economy and education and our lives move online, we must do everything we can to bridge this gap, so that no one falls behind for lack of access. It’s the new frontier in the fight for equity. In rural counties, Internet should be the great leveler of the playing field; not an ever-widening gap.
Our economic competitiveness depends on it. Broadband Internet touches every level of the economic ladder: from training our youngest minds to be ready for an economy that requires skills that don’t exist yet, to enhancing the productivity and output of our current workforce, to preparing our state with the infrastructure it will need to thrive in the economy of the future.
It starts in our schools, where every day teachers and students re learning the importance of interactive and personalized learning.
The Internet has enabled a new era of pedagogy; online textbooks, individualized learning plans, parent/teacher collaboration are all changing the game. Some of our teachers have access to a range of tools that will transform the way we educate and train the next generation of leaders, doers, and makers.
But others don’t. Too many of our schools report having Internet that is too slow to meet their needs. In the same way that we should have the latest textbooks, the most qualified teachers, and safest classrooms, we should strive to give our students an Internet connection that will expose them to new ideas and ways of learning. Broadband enables our schools to do more with less; to expand their classrooms beyond four walls, and to give students access to the world.
But a student’s education doesn’t end at the classroom door; it continues at home. And there too, too many of our students lack the Internet they need to get their homework done, and too few parents are able to easily interact with their children’s teachers to keep up with their learning, understand their needs, and provide input.
According to a study of American middle and secondary school teachers conducted by Pew Research, 67% say the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to interact with parents and 57% say it has had such an impact on enabling their interaction with students.
We know that one-third of all students nationwide – and more than twenty percent in New Jersey — don’t have connectivity at home, at all.
This is unacceptable. Before I went to Congress, I launched a program called JerseyOn, to help school lunch students get Internet access at home. Now that I’m in Congress, I’m here to fight for more.
I’ve spoken to too many students who go home at night with their new Chromebook and it’s useless because they have no connectivity – they can’t work with their peers or do their homework. It’s just a brick. So, they have to go to library, which closes early, and then sit outside McDonalds to get an Internet connection. That’s unacceptable in this day and age.
Even for those whose learning is no longer in the classroom, access to the Internet is still paramount. As Americans, we proudly value our ability to life ourselves up by our bootstraps; to make opportunities for ourselves where there may appear to be none. To educate ourselves when no one else can or will.
Today, doing that is more possible ever thanks to the availability of online courses and programs that can be done from home; but if you’re only connection to the Internet is your cell phone, they may be out of reach. Even the GED is online these days.
And, of course, the very things that we are teaching and learning are being reshaped by the Internet. It’s been said that in today’s economy, every job is a tech job. Whether it’s programming a robor or using a cash register, digital literacy is an absolute necessity in the modern workplace; from manufacturing to medicine, there is no such thing as a job that doesn’t require some kind of basic facility with online communication.
But this isn’t just an educational issue. Broadband is a critical driver of economic growth for jobs that exist here and now – but its effects are not evenly shared. A study by the World Bank found that for every ten percentage point increase in broadband Internet penetration, a country adds 1.3 percent to their overall GDP. As a multiplier of economic activity, it is unparalleled.
Here in New Jersey, the impact of broadband in rural areas is equally as impressive. In 2015, rural telecommunications additive effect (that is to say, the amount they added to economic growth) was more than $150 million. That’s nearly 400 new jobs created because of existing broadband penetration – and we are competing now for Amazon to put their next headquarters in New Jersey.
And we know that number is soft. Businesses in our rural community need immediate access to resources all over the state, and all over the world. From banks, to manufacturing facilities, to engineers and customers – a fast Internet connection enables business to happen from anywhere. And with lower costs of living, a rural community like this one, given affordable, reliable broadband Internet, can actually have a competitive advantage in an otherwise crowded, expensive region. I just left Thor Labs –fast internet is key and they wouldn’t be in the state without it.
If North Jersey, and its rural communities, are going to thrive and compete in the global economy of the future, we must commit ourselves to making sure that it has access to the medium on which that economy runs.
To help fund infrastructure improvements like broadband access, we need to think creatively. I recently introduced a bill – The Partnership to Build America Act — that would help us make such critical investments.
It creates an infrastructure bank, called the American Infrastructure Fund, where local governments would apply to receive support for their projects.
A percentage of the projects would need to be public-private partnerships, through loans and guarantees, so that we get a multiplier effect and ensure that everyone has some skin in the game to bring our infrastructure up to speed.
This is an approach that everyone from labor to business to local governments can get behind. And it does it without raising taxes one dime. It’s not a Democratic or Republican plan; it’s a win-win, good for the Fifth District plan, good for New Jersey plan, and, of course, good for the U.S. plan.
And of course, we need to make sure that we were taking advantage of every single federal program at our disposal to maximize the return on investment of our tax dollars. These dollars are spent somewhere – why not get them back to the Fifth Distrct, given what we send to Washington. I’m sick of our tax dollars going to West Virginia instead of Warren County – helping drive down our property taxes. Grant programs like the Connect America Fund, Community Connect Grants, and E-Rate target areas that need broadband the most; places like Warren County.
Our district gets 33 cents back for every dollar it pays in taxes. Meanwhile, states like West Virginia, for instance, are using these programs and get $4.23 cents for every tax dollar they send to Washington. For the amount of money we send to Washington, we must be diligent about making sure we are using every resource available to bring those dollars back.
We’re already paying for these programs. Why are taxpayers in Warren and Sussex paying for these programs only for them to support West Virginia? The way I see it is that it’s only right for some of these programs to come back home and benefit deserving towns like Hardwick.
Today, we are joined by people who work every day to expand access to and adoption of rural broadband in New Jersey and throughout the country.
Mayors Jim Perry and Tim McDonough understand the importance of this issue, and have worked hard to bring quality broadband to their towns. They’re busy lobbying CenturyLink to expand broadband access in their towns, and hosting a town hall with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.
Mayor McDonough even joined me in D.C. for Mayors Day, where we discussed opportunities to improve our return on investment with programs like these.
I am committed to working with them to do everything we can to give these communities, their businesses, and their residents, the infrastructure they deserve.