RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces New Federally-Backed Grant Program for Broadband in Sussex County

Expands Access for Families, Small Businesses, Schools, Healthcare, & Stimulate Local Economy

May 28, 2024
Press

Below: Gottheimer announcing new federal investments for broadband.

NEWTON, NJ — Today, May 28, 2024, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced new federal investment secured for New Jersey to ensure that every family has access to high- quality, high-speed, affordable internet. The new $50 million federal investment will be made available through the New Jersey Broadband Infrastructure Development Equity program, or NJBIDE, and will invest in fiber-optic technology and the last-mile infrastructure needed to build resilient and reliable networks in Sussex County and rural communities across Jersey. 

Video of Gottheimer’s announcement can be found here.

“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,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Today, after strong oversight and advocacy, Governor Murphy has made $50 million available in federal funding to invest in the fiber-optic technology and the kind of last-mile infrastructure we need to build resilient and reliable networks.”

Gottheimer continued, “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.”

Broadband Access Issues in Jersey and Across America:

  • 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 households across our country still aren’t connected to the Internet.
  • Across America, households pay an average of $118 a month for internet and cable service.

Investments to Expand Access to Broadband in Jersey:

  • $50 million from legislation Gottheimer helped pass and sign into law to invest in the New Jersey Broadband Infrastructure Development Equity (NJBIDE) program.
    • This program will invest in fiber-optic technology and the kind of last-mile infrastructure needed to build resilient and reliable networks in rural communities like Sussex and Warren County. 
    • Nonprofits, cooperatives, utilities, internet providers, and towns can all seek funding to build infrastructure.
  • $523 million coming to New Jersey through the “Internet for All” initiative.
    • This is a collection of federal programs from the Department of Commerce, Treasury, and the FCC that build broadband infrastructure and ensure Americans have the devices they need to get online.
  • $27 million to Sussex County during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the American Rescue Plan to invest in broadband infrastructure.

Previous Broadband Investment Gottheimer Helped Clawback to Jersey:

  • COVID CARES 2 package which Gottheimer helped negotiate this package with the Problem Solvers Caucus.
    • The package included resources for broadband programs nationwide, and established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help low-income households access broadband
    • The package also included resources for 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.

Gottheimer was joined by Planet Networks CEO Robert Boyle.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Good morning. It’s great to be back in Newton, with my good friend Robert Boyle, here at Planet Networks, an incredible local high-speed internet provider that we’re lucky to have serving Sussex County. There’s no better place to announce new federal dollars we’ve clawed back to Jersey to help connect households in Sussex — and across Jersey — to high-speed internet.

In Congress, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a range of policy issues — from lowering childcare costs to lowering taxes — but connectivity has always been special to me. Before coming to Congress, I served at the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency which ensures that the internet here in America is available and affordable for everyone. I went on to run a nonprofit here in Jersey that helped our communities, especially children, get online. 

Both of these experiences underscored a simple lesson: in the Twenty-first century, broadband connectivity is absolutely essential to almost every part of life. We rely on the internet to get an education and entertainment, work, access healthcare, and connect with our friends and loved ones. Nowadays, it’s as basic as running water or electricity. 

For far too long, far too many families and small businesses across Sussex and through Warren County, which I used to represent, have either no connectivity, or near dial up speeds, making it nearly impossible to do basic streaming and tasks. You’re talking about 45 minutes to download an episode of Stranger Things. 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.

During the pandemic, between nine and twelve million children across America didn’t have internet access. That was especially true in Montague, where it was reported that a whopping twenty-one percent of homes didn’t have broadband. According to the White House as of just a few years ago, thirty million households nationwide didn’t have the basic infrastructure to provide acceptable speeds. That’s why we saw educators in Newton relying on snail speeds of less than one megabit per second, not enough to even run a class on Zoom. 

It’s clear we still have work to do to ensure that every family in our state has access to high-quality, high-speed, affordable internet. 

Since the pandemic, and before, I’ve worked closely with my colleagues in Congress and our state and local leaders to secure investment to connect Jersey households to high-speed internet. Back in 2021, we celebrated the $190 million that I helped New Jersey secure from the American Rescue Plan, to expand and improve broadband access for more rural areas of New Jersey, including in Sussex County, and to other communities that lack high-speed connectivity. We helped connect nearly one hundred thousand households, and I’m very proud of that.

Thanks to a lot of push with our local providers like Planet Networks, and federal, state, and local action, our communities are certainly more connected than they’ve ever been. 

Just five years ago, one in six people in New Jersey — more than 1.4 million people — lacked broadband access at home. According to BroadbandNow, New Jersey now ranks fourth in the country in terms of connectivity. 98.8% of our households have access to basic internet and just about three-quarters have access to fiber optic service. 

These numbers are an incredible testament to the work we’ve put in with the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, three historic bills that I was incredibly proud to help craft and pass while in Congress. And I was proud that through the American Rescue Plan, we already delivered $27 million to Sussex County during the pandemic, to invest in broadband for local small businesses. 

But, here’s the deal. 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. 

I’m sure many of you remember this, but three years ago, at The Chocolate Goat in Lafayette, we stood with the Governor and state and local officials to first announce that Jersey would receive $190 million dollars from the American Rescue Plan to help invest in infrastructure and connect our communities to high-speed internet. The Governor committed that part of those dollars would come up here. As I mentioned, I personally fought for those dollars to get included in the bill that passed the House and Senate, and that former President Trump signed into law.  

Those of you who know me well know that I never took my eye off the ball. I made sure that those dollars that we clawed back from Washington would go where they belonged. 

Today, after strong oversight and advocacy, Governor Murphy has made $50 million, from that bill, available in federal funding to invest in the New Jersey Broadband Infrastructure Development Equity program, or NJBIDE. Specifically, NJBIDE will invest in fiber-optic technology and the kind of last-mile infrastructure we need to build resilient and reliable networks. Sussex County is eligible, and so our local towns, and County officials here are already meeting with NJBIDE officials. 

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. To be clear, it’s not just for government: nonprofits, providers, and cooperatives can all seek out funding to build internet infrastructure for Northwestern New Jersey. 

Once formally released and delivered here, 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. 

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. Right now, I understand that the BPU is set to begin its application process in the coming weeks, and then submit projects for approval to the Treasury Department by the end of this year. 

If anyone has any questions, you can always ask me or reach out to my office. For those who ask, I will add a personal letter of support to be submitted with your application. I know that by working together, we’ll be back here soon, in Sussex, celebrating, with shovels in the ground, some critical broadband clawbacks.

But that’s not all. After seven long years of debating, discussing, and negotiating on connectivity issues in Congress, I’m proud to share that New Jersey will also be clawing back even more federal investment to Jersey to get our state online. There will be a total of $523 million coming to New Jersey through the “Internet for All” initiative, a collection of federal programs that build broadband infrastructure and ensure Americans have the devices they need to get online. 

This investment, which I fought for, negotiated, and helped pass in Congress, as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, will be a game-changer for our state. I will fight for every nickel possible to come back to Northwestern Jersey, to our community, where the digital divide is still too stark. 

Here’s the reality: the need to be online is only growing. A new study from Upwork found that more than one in five jobs will be remote by 2025. More than one in five Americans rely on telehealth here in the United States to connect with their doctors and get prescriptions. At the same time, one in five households across our country still aren’t connected to the Internet. We need to make smart investments to build out this infrastructure now, so everyone in our state can access the full benefits of the internet.

And we need to make sure broadband is affordable. Across America, households pay an average of $118 a month for internet and cable service. It grows exponentially more expensive in rural, last-mile areas, where providers are spending thousands upon thousands to get infrastructure in the ground. Obviously, those prices are unsustainable for working families who don’t have a spare few hundred in their monthly budget to pay for internet.

That’s where the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, comes in. ACP, which I was proud to help establish through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, provides financial assistance that enables families to access broadband so that no one in our society is left behind. It helps families, Pell Grant recipients, and veterans afford high-speed broadband services — from monthly internet bills to installation fees and computer expenses, which often create significant financial burdens. 

Specifically, ACP provides eligible households with up to $30 per month toward their internet bills, and a one-time subsidy of $100 towards desktops, laptops, or tablet computers for children and hardworking families. These subsidies don’t come at the cost of providers: they make it possible for providers to continue serving harder-to-reach areas and families to get online. A total win-win.

This program, which helps 20 million American households get online, risks running out of this month. I’ve been sounding the alarm in Congress, doing everything that I can to get investment for ACP. Back last year, I sent a bipartisan letter with more than forty of my colleagues to Congressional leadership, urging them to bring a bill extending the ACP program to the floor. In April, I worked with my Problem Solvers Caucus colleagues to endorse the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, bipartisan, commonsense legislation that will 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. I’ll say it again: broadband is 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.

I look forward to working with the Governor, the BPU, County Commissioners, mayors, and their teams to get these critical federal investments to the families, students, seniors, hospitals, and small businesses of Northwestern New Jersey, who all deserve the broadband connectivity they need to work, learn, stay healthy, and do business today and beyond.

Here in the greatest country in the world, with all of us working together — across the aisle — Democrats and Republicans — and at every level: federal, state, and local — to get our communities connected, I know our best days will always be ahead of us. 

We’ve made great progress but there is still more to do and now is the time to push harder than ever. 

Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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