A Plan for Connecting New Jersey
Monday, November 27, 2023
A Plan for Connecting New Jersey
The New Jersey Office of Broadband Connectivity (OBC) is spearheading the state's effort to implement New Jersey’s vision for digital equity. OBC recently released a draft Digital Equity Plan titled Connecting New Jersey. The plan offers a view of the state’s needs, resources, vision, and ambition regarding digital equity. OBC is seeking feedback through November 30, 2023. After receiving feedback, OBC will update the draft and expects to finalize the New Jersey Digital Equity Plan by early 2024. Here are some highlights from the draft.
New Jersey's Vision for Digital Equity
New Jersey's digital equity vision is for every resident to have the confidence and competence to harness the power of the internet, devices, and digitally accessible services. Digital equity can help New Jersey bridge economic and achievement disparities among all residents, enabling them to lead fulfilling lives with dignity. In line with this vision, four overarching goals set forth the aspirations of the Digital Equity Plan:
- Ensure access to affordable high-speed internet for every New Jerseyan both in their home and in their communities.
- Ensure that every New Jerseyan has the confidence and competence they need to use computers and the internet to achieve their goals. These goals may be related to accessing education; finding employment; building a business; obtaining healthcare; accessing government services; understanding and using online information; engaging civically; and maintaining cybersecurity.
- Ensure that every New Jerseyan has access to devices, software, assistive technologies, training, and technical support to achieve their well-being.
- Ensure that every New Jerseyan has efficient and effective digital experiences with state government to obtain information or services.
Digital Equity Strategy and Objectives
In addition to setting four aspirational goals for the state, OBC has also established measurable objectives for each goal.
Goal 1: Everyone has access to affordable high-speed internet in their home and communities.
Strategy 1.1: Build internet infrastructure to ensure New Jerseyans have internet access, focusing on where it is needed most.
- Connect 100 percent of unserved locations for all Covered Populations (i.e., those with less than 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream today) by 2028
- Upgrade to 100 percent of underserved locations for all Covered Populations (i.e., those with less than 100 Mbps down/ 20 Mbps up today) by 2028
Leading Indicators: Share of Broadband Equity and Access Deployment (BEAD) Program funds disbursed to subgrantees in each year ‘24-’29
Strategy 1.2: Increase broadband subscriptions among New Jersey residents
- Percentage of eligible residents enrolled in the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) above current rate
- For all Covered Populations, New Jersey will target reducing the gap from the state average for broadband subscriptions
Leading Indicators: Funding provided for ACP enrollment efforts
Goal 2: Ensure that every New Jerseyan has the confidence and competence they need to achieve their goals using computers and the internet.
These goals may be related to: Accessing education; finding employment; building a business; obtaining healthcare; accessing government services; understanding and using online information; civic engagement; and cybersecurity.
Strategy 2.1: Create digital skills standards and partnerships to implement them
Strategy 2.2: Increase digital skills for key life activities and goals related to education, workforce/economic development, healthcare, civic engagement, cybersecurity, etc.
Outcome Metrics (for 2.1 and 2.2)
- Improvement from baseline (once established) of passing score in Committee-implemented digital literacy assessments by each Covered Population
Leading Indicators: Count of organizations implementing Digital Literacy standards. Funding allocated to organizations providing Covered Populations with digital skills trainings.
Strategy 2.3 Strengthen the collaboration between organizations that help build the digital skills of New Jersey residents
Leading Indicators: Count of community of practice sessions. Number of attendees that report increased confidence in ability to offer digital literacy services to Covered Populations.
Goal 3: Ensure that every New Jerseyan has access to devices, computers, software, assistive technologies, training, and technical support to achieve their well-being
Strategy 3.1: Increase the affordability of computers, software, assistive technologies, training, and technical support.
Strategy 3.2: Increase the availability of computers, software, assistive technologies, training, and technical support.
Strategy 3.3: Increase resources for device technical support to residents.
Strategy 3.4: Strengthen the collaboration between organizations that help build the digital skills of New Jersey residents.
Outcome Metrics (for all Goal 3 strategies)
- For all Covered Populations, New Jersey will target reducing the gap from the state average for device access.
- (3.1 and 3.2) Count of subsidized devices to Covered Populations. Total subsidy awarded toward devices supporting Covered Populations.
- (3.3) Count of residents that have received technical support from Digital Equity Act-funded programs.
- (3.4) Count of community of practice sessions. Number of attendees that report increased capacity to offer access to computers, software, assistive technologies, training, and technical support.
Goal 4: Everyone has efficient and effective digital experiences with state government to obtain information or services.
Strategy 4.1 Simplify the “front end” resident experience to access government services online, using principles of human-centered design.
Strategy 4.2 Collaborate with state agencies to improve “back end” data infrastructure, data management policies and practices, and cybersecurity of state websites.
Outcome Metrics for all Goal 4 strategies
- Share of state program application forms that are fully digitized (targets to be determined).
- Share of state agency websites that are mobile-responsive (targets to be determined).
- Sign-up completion rates on redesigned web pages before and after redesign (targets to be determined).
Leading Indicators for all Goal 4 strategies: Share of state websites adhering to human-centered design best practices (target to be determined).
New Jersey's Digital Divide
While recognizing that "Covered Populations" are not mutually exclusive, OBC conducted a “needs assessment” to baseline access to the internet and unique barriers faced by specific groups of New Jerseyans.
Based on 2021 Census American Community Survey (ACS) data, ~92.1% of New Jersey residents have some type of internet subscription and 80.7% have some type of broadband subscription. However, several Covered Populations fall behind this average. This gap is most acute for low-income households, English language learners, and individuals with disabilities.
In New Jersey, there are ~580,000 low-income households, or roughly 1 in 6 of the state’s total households. Parts of the state where the poverty rate is higher include Atlantic, Camden, Cumberland, Hudson, Mercer, and Passaic counties.
Broadband adoption for low-income households (61.5%) lags the state’s average of 80.7% while device access (other than a smartphone) at 71.2% similarly trails the state average of 88.9%. This gap is in line with historical trends because income is a significant predictor of broadband access and device adoption. New Jersey households earning <$25,000 annually had a broadband subscription rate that is 17 percentage points lower than households earning more than $75,000/year.
In New Jersey, there were ~1,300,000 households with a member over the age of 60 as of the 2021 Census, making up 37.6% of the state’s population. The rate of broadband subscriptions for these households (72.0%) lags the state’s average of 80.7%. Device access (excluding smartphone) lags the state average of 88.9%. The median income of individuals 60+ in New Jersey is ~30% lower than the median household income. OBC heard from community groups about the challenges of affording broadband subscriptions on fixed incomes.
A recent study, citing Census data, ranked New Jersey's aging individuals 15th in the country for digital familiarity across five metrics, with an opportunity to improve on device spending levels. In focus groups, OBC heard from senior groups about the challenges of getting online, particularly accessing basic public services (e.g., renewing a driver’s license or scheduling a health appointment). Seniors shared insight on the challenges of learning how to interact with different types of devices (e.g., computers vs. smartphones) and of trying to comprehend website and software design. OBC also heard in multiple stakeholder discussions about the difficulty seniors can experience navigating the internet and uncertainty related to how to use it safely.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) maintains and operates ten (10) major institutions. As of January 3, 2023, ~13,200 people were incarcerated in state facilities. Incarcerated individuals do not have broadband access because state correctional facilities lack the network infrastructure to have a secured system for digital educational- and employment-related resources. Without the infrastructure, these facilities cannot provide resources to incarcerated persons to build digital literacy skills, which poses a significant challenge on release.
Correctional facilities do offer incarcerated individuals very limited access to a proprietary Inmate Kiosk System. The Inmate Kiosk System vendor selects the set of available resources, which is currently limited to email, music, and games. A planned replacement of the current Inmate Kiosk System will give the department an opportunity to make available a wider array of resources through the internet, including educational, medical and mental health services.
Just over 5 percent of New Jersey's population are veterans. In conversation with veterans, OBC learned that the lack of assistance available for understanding and enrolling in programs, combined with a lack of confidence, results in higher levels of anxiety when attempting to get connected. For this reason, veterans pointed to the non-intuitive nature of online sign-up systems as a distinct barrier.
Individuals with Disabilities
Over 14% of New Jerseyans are people with disabilities. In New Jersey, the top three types of disabilities faced by residents are ambulatory (5.8% of the disabled population), independent living (4.8% of the disabled population), and a cognitive disability (3.8% of the disabled population). In New Jersey, individuals with disabilities have a median income of $31,000, substantially lower than the state median of $89,000. And 38% of New Jerseyans with disabilities fall below the state poverty line, compared to just 16% of able-bodied New Jerseyans.
About 80% of individuals with disabilities in New Jersey have an internet subscription but only two-thirds have a broadband subscription, lagging the rest of the state by almost 15%.
English Language Learners
In New Jersey, there are ~200,000 households who are not fluent English speakers, making up ~6% of the state’s population. Individuals with language barriers appear to be concentrated in New Jersey’s urban regions. Nearly one-third (32%) of New Jerseyans speak a language other than English. Within this population, Spanish is the most spoken language (17%), followed by Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese) (1.4%), Portuguese (1.2%), and Hindi (1.0%). Forty-three percent of New Jerseyans with language barriers make $35,000 or less in annual household income compared to just 18% of New Jerseyans without a language barrier.
The rate of broadband adoption for these households (62.4%) lags the state’s average of 80.7%. Device access (excluding smartphones), at 69.1%, similarly trails the state average of 88.9%.
Communities of Color
New Jersey is home to a wide variety of minority groups, the largest of which are Black (13%) and Asian (10%). Communities of color report lower incomes than the state median. For example, Latino Hispanic households reported a 2021 median household income of ~$45,000, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander households reported ~$52,000, and Native American households reported ~$52,000—all substantially less than the state median of ~$89,000. Further, minority households in New Jersey are more likely to fall under the 150% poverty threshold. Communities of color in the state are more likely to be non-English speaking and subject to the associated barriers—compounding the broadband access and adoption challenges.
Broadband adoption is lowest for American Indian or Alaskan Natives, Hispanic/Latino, and Black/African American residents. Device access (excluding smartphones) is lowest for Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American, and American Indian or Alaskan Native residents.
In New Jersey, individuals living in rural areas make up 11.3% of the state’s population. Many rural New Jerseyans simply lack the necessary infrastructure to access broadband. Fiber broadband availability in metro areas runs at 60%, far higher than the rural figure of 23%. Similarly, 4% of rural locations are classified as “unserved” (i.e., having less than 25/3 Mbps speed) compared to 2% of metro locations. Additionally, rural areas may face fewer provider options. OBC has heard from community members that if a provider exists, it will often be the only one, or one of a limited few, available. Cumberland County, which is rural, has the highest percentage of low-income people in the state at 15.7%. Further, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties in South Jersey are the three counties with the highest percentage of people living with a disability. Rural residents in these areas who are also low-income and/or have a disability may face compounded barriers to internet access.
The rate of broadband adoption for rural households in New Jersey (79.2%) lags the state’s average of 80.7%, while device access similarly trails the state average of 88.9%.
New Jersey has not conducted a comprehensive study of digital literacy across the state. But in voluntary assessments conducted by New Jersey’s public libraries (covering topics such as Basic Computer Skills, Basic and Advanced Email, Excel, and Information Literacy), the average pass rate was 47%. The module with the highest pass rate, at 76.3% is Telehealth. The lowest is Information Literacy, at just 28.2%.
OBC found that fiber-, cable-, or DSL-based internet plans in New Jersey as of October 2023 could cost anywhere between $20/month to $125+/month. Broadband is typically understood to be affordable if the cost does not exceed 2% of a family’s monthly income. Illustratively, for a low-income family living on $30,000 a year, with a monthly income of ~$2,500, any internet plan over $50/month would represent a significant cost burden.
Supplementing these findings, New Jersey ran a statewide survey in 2022 to better understand why residents are unable to, or do not, access the internet. In this survey, OBC found that the second biggest reported driver for why residents were not subscribed to internet plans is affordability, after a lack of broadband infrastructure. Across price points provided in the survey, only 59% of respondents recorded being able to purchase the speed of internet service that they need, with 15% of those respondents following up to qualify their answers or demonstrate difficulties in paying for their internet services. A majority of respondents were unwilling to pay more for significantly improved service. The survey also found that 32% of survey respondents stated they do not have internet access at all because it is too expensive.
Time for Your Feedback
The New Jersey Office of Broadband Connectivity seeks public comment on its draft Digital Equity Plan until November 30, 2023. [Submit comments online.] The Office will review all comments and revise the Digital Equity Plan draft based on your input. OBC encourages New Jersey residents, community organizations, businesses, local units of government, and other groups to participate in the public comment periods.
- Achieving a Digitally Inclusive Ohio
- A Digital Access Plan for All Idahoans
- Envisioning a Connected, Interconnected Alabama
- Missouri Pursues Sustainable Digital Opportunity Initiatives
- A Digital Equity Plan to Connect All Kansans
- South Dakota's Plan to Leverage Digital Equity to Reach Economic Goals
- Aloha Spirit Inspires Hawai'i Digital Equity Plan
- The Plan for Closing Nevada’s Digital Divide
- Wisconsin's Digital Equity Values
- ¡Su opinión cuenta! Puerto Rico Releases Initial Draft of Digital Equity Plan | ¡Su Opinión Cuenta! Puerto Rico Pública el Borrador Inicial del Plan de Equidad Digital
- Kentucky Pursues Full and Equitable Digital Access for All
- Tennessee Drafts a Digital Opportunity Plan
- Washington State Sets Digital Equity Goals
- West Virginia's Plan to Conquer the Digital Divide
- Rhode Island Works to Bring Broadband to All Residents
- Wyoming Seeks Feedback on Digital Access Plan
- Communities Know Communities Best: Michigan's Digital Equity Plan
- Montana's Digital Opportunity Plan
- Achieving Digital Independence in Utah
- Maine's Vision of Digital Equity
- A Look at Louisiana's Draft Digital Equity Plan
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. 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.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2023. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.
For subscribe/unsubscribe info, please email headlinesATbentonDOTorg