Can DC end the NJ digital divide?
As the state has made progress in bridging the digital divide, the lack of access to high-speed, low-cost internet still hampers educational, work, healthcare, and economic growth opportunities for far too many. from New Jersey. Fortunately, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in Congress offers an incredible opportunity to fill this gap once and for all.
The increase in internet use and addiction seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to New Jersey residents and the rest of the country how essential internet connectivity is in our daily lives. As Chairman of the Mercer County Council of Commissioners and CEO of the YMCA of the Capital Region, I see the difference internet connectivity can make for working families and students in low-income communities. It’s the difference between being able to schedule a quick online consultation with a healthcare professional and going to the emergency room. And that was the difference between being able to access education tools online and having students themselves learning on paper when classrooms were far away. Bridging the digital divide to level the playing field with students from the wealthiest communities is something that will have a direct impact on the communities I serve.
The good news is that the infrastructure bill is tackling broadband affordability head-on with $ 14 billion in federal funding for a groundbreaking program called Connectivity Affordability (ACB) that will provide households eligible for a benefit of $ 30 per month which will go to their Internet bills. This would make the Internet more affordable for 1.57 million New Jerseyans who would be eligible for the monthly benefit. Equally important, the Infrastructure Bill provides $ 2.75 billion in funding for digital equity programs designed to reach vulnerable communities that have traditionally had low internet adoption rates, including older Americans and low-income families. Among its objectives: to teach these communities digital literacy skills and teach them how to use the Internet. By combining affordability and adoption, the infrastructure bill not only provides the resources to connect everyone to the internet, but also makes real investments to ensure that the people who need it are made aware of its existence and understand how to get the most out of it.
While there is still an incredible amount of work to be done to address divisions and inequalities in our country and here in New Jersey, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make a real difference in leveling the digital playing field for access to Internet. But to bring every American into the 21st century, we need our leaders in the House of Representatives to see the urgency of the situation and pass the bill now. I’ve seen what reliable broadband can do for my constituents and the community the YMCA of the Capital Region serves – and what happens when they don’t. Everyone in New Jersey deserves access to the opportunities the Internet offers. It is time for the House to act to make this happen.