Universal Broadband is Essential Infrastructure for New Jersey

broadband stockThis is an edited version of testimony delivered to the Board of Public Utilities this afternoon regarding Verizon’s service in South Jersey.

In today’s hyper-connected world and digital economy, access to affordable high-speed internet is vital to providing economic opportunity. For the child researching a topic for school, the young mother looking for a job so she can support her family, the entrepreneur trying to hold a video conference with business partners, and countless others, having fast and reliable high-speed internet is essential to achieving their daily goals.

While Verizon may state that it holds the best intentions, the fact of the matter is that its failure to maintain landlines and refusal to build sufficient high speed infrastructure significantly harms the residents of our state. And those already struggling to get by are the ones that can least afford a lack of access to affordable high speed internet.

Broadband access in New Jersey is generally quite high. Just three percent of residents lack access compared to ten percent of Americans overall. But New Jersey, as the most densely populated state in the nation, must lead and make access to this vital service universal. 21 percent of rural New Jerseyans lack access to broadband internet. Cumberland, Atlantic, Burlington and Salem counties all rank in the bottom third in the state for broadband access.

When it comes to employment and education, access is incredibly important. Today, many employers post job openings in online-only forums and use online-only applications. Among Americans who sought work within the past two years, 80 percent used online resources. And research shows that unemployed people who use the internet for job searches have been found to obtain jobs about 25 percent faster than similar candidates who don’t search online.

Schools rely on the internet more now than ever before to educate their students. In 2007, 94 percent of school districts serving low-income populations reported that their teachers assigned internet-based homework. A recent study surveying high schoolers reported that 97 percent are required to use the internet to complete homework. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 lower-income households with school-age children don’t have high-speed internet at home, placing major barriers to educational attainment for these children.

And while access is obviously important, access alone is not enough. Even though only three percent of New Jerseyans lack access to high-speed internet, about fifteen percent live in a household without broadband. Many also have no choice of carrier. Without competition among carriers, it is more difficult to incentivize affordable options. While recent data is not available for New Jersey, three-quarters of homes nationwide have no competitive choice for high-speed broadband.

Across America, 10 percent of higher-income households live without broadband. For low-income households, those with incomes under $20,000, that number is 59 percent. Among black families, 50 percent don’t have broadband. Among hispanic families, 46 percent don’t have broadband. For white families, 28 percent live without broadband. Among all families who live without broadband, a third cite cost of service as the main reason.

Considering all of this, state officials and representatives need to make the maintenance, construction and expansion of high speed internet networks a priority, and take steps to ensure that residents can access this service affordably. If Verizon is unable to either maintain its landline infrastructure or construct a high speed fiber internet network, then state representatives must step in and fix the problem. Whether that is partnering with another private company or creating a public solution, this need must be addressed in a purposeful manner. The longer these communities are subject to sub-par, unaffordable internet access, the more they will struggle to build strong economies that improve the lives of all New Jerseyans.