As the novel coronavirus health emergency continues, a significant number of Garden State residents find themselves behind their peers — because they don’t have reliable internet access.

But an effort is underway to better understand and address the problem.

Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, D-Hudson, is pushing a plan to create a "Community Broadband Study Commission" that would evaluate establishing community broadband networks across New Jersey.

He said U.S. Census data shows a 13% of homes in the Garden State lack high-speed internet access “and these residents are predominantly low income. They’re both in urban and rural areas of the state.”

"There are areas of the state where we know internet service providers are not willing to expand to, because they don’t think they’ll have enough customers," Chiaravalloti said.

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And during the pandemic, that's a challenge for people working out of their homes as well as students trying to learn remotely.

He said once the commission is formed, it could recommend moving forward with a statewide broadband system.

“It may create local, either government or non-profit networks that could potentially drive down the cost of internet connectivity,” he said.

Chiaravalloti said the commission will be representative of a number of different points of view.

“We’ll have the Board of Public Utilities represented,” he said. “We’ll have the chief technology officer from the state represented. We’ll have someone from the Rate Counsel represented. We’ll have some legislators and we are also going to have public input.”

He said it's important to understand "where the gaps are, and then the most efficient way to fill those gaps.”

He stressed the formation of this kind of commission is not intended to be a “government over-reach” into the private sector, but rather, a solution to an ongoing broadband coverage problem.

“We’ve all dealt with the internet slowing down, those Zoom calls freezing,” he said. “In the end I think this is a solid proposal and I’m hoping we can enjoy some bipartisan support on it.”

 

The measure has been approved by the Assembly and is currently awaiting review by the State Senate Economic Growth Committee.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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