New Jersey Relying on Federal Broadband Investments to Make State More Equitable

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, July 14, 2023

Weekly Digest

New Jersey Relying on Federal Broadband Investments to Make State More Equitable

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of July 10-14, 2023

Kevin Taglang

“Every New Jerseyan deserves access to reliable, affordable, and fast broadband internet.”— Governor Phil Murphy (D-NJ)

Even before he took office Governor Phil Murphy (D-NJ) realized that access to high-speed internet is now a prerequisite for participation in our increasingly connected economy. One of the Murphy administration's first priorities was to create a middle-mile, fiber-optic cable network to connect New Jersey’s rural and urban communities to high-speed internet.

In New Jersey, as elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on technology and connectivity gaps. Schools closed and moved to fully virtual learning environments. "But without equity of access, no amount of innovative program[ming] can boost student learning," said New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet at a June 2020 briefing with Governor Phil Murphy (D-NJ). The state stepped up efforts to close the digital divide.

The Murphy administration launched the $54 million Digital Divide Grant to close the digital divide in New Jersey public schools, and allocated another $6 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds for grant funding to nonpublic schools. At the time, it was estimated that approximately 231,000 of the state’s nearly 1.4 million public school students needed either devices, internet connectivity, or both.  

By January 2021, the number of students lacking devices or connectivity was reduced to 7,717. And by March 2021, the Department of Education announced that every public school student had the technology needed to connect to their classroom online.

“As of today, New Jersey’s digital divide is no more. It has been closed,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Closing the digital divide wasn’t just about meeting the challenges of remote learning—it’s been about ensuring every student has the tools they need to excel in a 21st century educational environment. This is vitally important as more and more of our students return to in-person instruction—whether their schools are all in-person or are reopening to allow in-person classes on a hybrid schedule. Their laptops are not just for home instruction. They’re just as critical as any textbook.”

But the state learned that the digital divide goes beyond students' access and devices—and its efforts to get everyone connected continue.

New Jersey's Digital Divide

On January 1, 2018, the Government Technology and Innovation Transition Advisory Committee reported to then-Governor-elect Murphy that New Jersey had substantial gaps in broadband access—particularly in its rural areas where approximately 21 percent of residents lacked broadband access as of 2017. Sussex and Warren counties, and many parts of South Jersey, had the most residents without broadband access. New Jersey’s lower-income residents were also disproportionately

New Jersey’s average download speed is 136  Mbps, far faster than the 79.5 Mbps that Newark averages—even when adequate broadband infrastructure is in place

Earlier this year, a study by Newark-based nonprofits Project Ready and Newark Trust for Education found that poverty and income are the best predictors of internet speed and quality, even if sufficient broadband connections exist. In New Jersey’s five most populous cities:

  • A zip code’s household poverty rate is the strongest predictor of average download speeds.
  • A zip code’s median household income is the second-best predictor of average download speeds, with a very strong positive correlation between the variables.

In addition, poverty and income are also the best predictors of internet quality. In Essex County, home to New Jersey’s most populous city, Newark:

  • A zip code’s household poverty rate is the second-best predictor of average download speeds, with a strong correlation between the variables.
  • A zip code’s median household income is the best predictor of average download speeds.

The researchers compared the average internet download speed by zip code in Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, and Toms River. They found that the highest income households have internet download speeds nearly twice as fast as the lowest income households—and Black and Latino neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted.

New Jersey’s Broadband Office

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is a state agency and regulatory authority mandated to ensure safe, adequate, and proper utility services at reasonable rates for New Jersey customers.

On February 1, 2023, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso appointed Valarry Bullard as the Director of the newly created New Jersey Broadband Office. As the state’s first Broadband Director, Bullard will drive the state’s broadband strategy of equal access for all New Jerseyans and direct substantial federal and state funding that will soon become available by working with industry, communities, and agencies to ensure the greatest impact for digital literacy and inclusion.

The Broadband Office's mission is to ensure that New Jersey residents, businesses, and communities have equitable access to affordable broadband service. The office is working in conjunction with the Broadband Access Study Commission to develop recommendations for addressing gaps in broadband access and deployment for the state. 

Federal Broadband Support for New Jersey

“It’s comprehensive federal investments like these that will continue to make our state fairer and our communities more equitable for generations to come.”—Gov. Murphy

Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program

The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is helping Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) purchase broadband access and equipment, as well as hire and train information technology personnel through the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. Two institutions in New Jersey have won Connecting Minority Communities grants:

  1. Felician University in Paterson received over $2.3 million for Project FELICE (Fostering Equity in Learning Through Inclusion, Connectivity, and Engagement) which aims to expand the university’s broadband capacity and improve broadband access, adoption, and digital skills for students, other university stakeholders, and anchor communities while improving training for nurses and providing service to the community.
  2. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Newark received over $2.7 million for the Creating Connections: Building Equitable Access to Broadband in Newark through Public-Private Collaborations. The project aims to enhance digital infrastructure and equitable access, teach digital technologies, and develop jobs of the future. The project activities will expand campus Wi-Fi and digital capabilities; upgrade campus technology resources; expand and innovate the Technology Launchpad; provide internet service to Residential Community Reintegration Programs; provide technological devices (laptops, tablets, desktops) for student-inmates; connect Rutgers University–Newark Talent and Opportunity Program students and their families/community to connectivity and technological resources; provide residents and students with access to career pathway trainings to compete in the tech and telecom industry; and train cohorts of high school students in the fundamentals of data science, survey design, implementation, and how to engage in service-learning community survey projects, and analyze findings for dissemination and sharing. 

Capital Projects Fund

The U.S. Treasury approved New Jersey's plan to use $50 million (26 percent) of its Capital Projects Fund allocation for broadband infrastructure projects. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will oversee the New Jersey Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Equity (NJBIDE) pilot program, a competitive grant program designed to connect areas with limited or no access to reliable broadband internet.

New Jersey estimates that the Capital Projects Fund will help connect 28,216 locations—which is approximately 2.5 percent of the locations that lack high-speed
internet access in the state.

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program

In December 2022, NTIA approved nearly $5 million from the BEAD program for New Jersey to perform:

  • Research and data collection, including initial identification of unserved and underserved locations;
  • Publications, outreach, and communications support;
  • Technical assistance to potential subgrantees, including through workshops and events; and
  • Surveys of unserved, underserved, and underrepresented communities to better understand barriers to adoption.

In total, New Jersey will receive nearly $264 million from BEAD to extend broadband networks so they reach every location in the state. New Jersey is expected to deliver a 5-year plan for using BEAD funding by mid-September 2023.

Digital Equity

Also in December 2022, NTIA approved over $1.1 million for a State Digital Equity Planning Grant, supporting the state in:

  • Closing the digital equity gap and the development of a Statewide Digital Equity Plan;
  • Staff recruitment and development; and
  • Community and stakeholder engagement.

New Jersey's state digital equity plan is expected in December 2023.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

July 17––Ready or Not? (

July 18—Open Meeting of the Internet of Things Advisory Board (NIST)

July 18––Age Verification Tech for Social Media: Exploring the Opportunities and Pitfalls (ITIF)

July 18––The Broadband Revolution – The Impact of Open Access Last Mile Fiber Networks (Fiber Broadband Association)

July 18––Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee Meeting (NTIA)

July 19––ACP Enrollment Performance Tool AMA Webinar (Benton Institute)

July 19––Internet For All Webinar Series: Introduction to the BEAD Challenge Process (NTIA)

July 20––July 2023 Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting (FCC)

July 26––Internet for All Webinar Series: Data Collection Tools to Support the Digital Equity Act (NTIA)

August 3—August 2023 Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting

August 17––Technological Advisory Council (FCC)

August 20––Fiber Connect 2023 (Fiber Broadband Association)



The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S.—even in New Jersey—have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Kevin Taglang.