Today, August 18, 2020, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) hosted a virtual roundtable to discuss ways to improve rural broadband infrastructure and expand access to high-speed internet in the Fifth District, as some North Jersey schools and businesses struggle without strong high-speed broadband connectivity and as more of our families are working, learning, socializing, and connecting to telehealth from home because of the COVID-19 crisis.
“This public health and economic crisis has exacerbated the problems that many communities lacking broadband have faced for years — including in more rural areas, like Sussex and Warren Counties right here in the Fifth District, as well as underserved and unserved minority and lower-income communities,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “I will continue to work with the providers and our great mayors and councils and school leaders to help expand access to high-speed broadband, to get costs down, and make it easier to install the physical infrastructure necessary to connect our homes, schools, and businesses to the broadband we all need.”
Gottheimer continued, “I want to thank everyone who joined me today so we can identify these problems and find solutions. We must continue to ensure North Jersey gets the federal resources, the federal investment, and that our families, businesses, and local communities get all the support they need — a battle I am committed to fighting for our shared constituents.”
Gottheimer was joined by North Warren Regional High School Superintendent Sarah Bilotti, Frelinghuysen Superintendent Stephanie Bonaparte, Franklin Superintendent JR Giacchi, Daryl Detrick from Computer Science Teacher Association, Wantage Mayor Victor Miglio, Hope Township Mayor Tim McDonough, Wardwick Mayor Kevin Duffy, Green Township Mayor Phillips, White Township Mayor Jeff Herb, Stillwater Mayor Lisa Chammings, Knowlton Township Mayor Adele Starrs, Freylinghuysen Mayor Chris Stracco, Belvidere Councilman Joseph Proth, Belvidere Mayor Joe Kennedy, Sussex Mayor Ed Meyers, Sussex County Administrator Greg Poff, Warren County Freeholder James Kern, Planet Networks CEO Robert Boyle, Altice/Optimum representative Marilyn Davis, Verizon representative Thomas Edwards, and CenturyLink representative Josh Motzer.
Recent federal action and resources to improve rural broadband infrastructure include:
· The bipartisan CARES Act — which Gottheimer helped pass out of the House in March, included hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to increase broadband infrastructure and internet connected devices to support telehealth, telework, and telelearning.
· Fifth District telehealth resources — $1.7 million in CARES Act investment went to Zufall Health Center, which has locations in Newton and Hackettstown, to support their ongoing work in telehealth and community care.
· Investment to North Jersey higher education — $40 million in CARES Act investment has gone to help support NJ-5 schools and help students pay for basic essentials in the wake of the outbreak, including to Sussex County Community College, Warren County Community College, and Centenary University.
· Investment to Fifth District K-12 schools — $7 million in CARES Act investment has gone to help the Fifth District’s elementary and secondary schools provide quality education through remote learning.
· Gottheimer legislation to increase investment in rural broadband — The House recently passed bipartisan legislation that included Gottheimer’s provision to increase investment in the FCC broadband infrastructure grant program to help address the challenges facing unserved and underserved areas.
Watch the virtual roundtable HERE.
Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
We’re here today to discuss a basic service that every American should have access to.
As a first-world country and largest economy in the world, access to affordable high-speed internet should not be an issue.
North Jersey is continuing to face major battles — both the fight to make sure every resident is protected from the virus and the fight to get our local economies, businesses, and communities back on track.
Part of getting back on track has meant that many of our families are working from home and most of our kids will be back to learning from home, in some way or another, in just a matter of weeks. More than ever before, our businesses, of all sizes, including our farms, are relying on high-speed broadband to get work out to clients and customers, and to bring their teams together for meetings online. Our stores that can’t open their doors fully, are depending on the internet to stay in business. For many families, it’s the only way to get groceries safely, to order medicine, to shop for back-to-school clothing.
On top of that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of our communities have increasingly been relying on the internet to connect with their family and friends from a safe distance, see a parent in a nursing home that can’t have visitors, and receive health care through tele-health options. And with cooler fall temperatures coming, outside visits will become more difficult.
This public health and economic crisis has exacerbated the problems that many communities lacking broadband have faced for years — including in more rural areas, like Sussex and Warren Counties right here in the Fifth District, as well as underserved and unserved minority and lower-income communities.
These communities need broadband infrastructure and increased internet speeds to keep up with the twenty-first century economy.
Lack of broadband connectivity is not only a local issue, but it’s a major national issue, and it is a particular problem in rural areas of the country, including in Northwestern New Jersey.
According to a study of Microsoft data last year, 162 million people across the United States are not using the internet at broadband speeds.
In 2018, nearly 17 million children lived in homes without high-speed Internet, and more than 7 million did not have computers at home.
In 2019, in New Jersey, especially in the western part of the Fifth District, students, families, and businesses shouldn’t have to move just to get basic internet access. Yet, in too many areas, close to a quarter of middle-and working-class households lack access to the internet. In Newton, it’s nearly a third. Imagine trying to do your homework or apply for a job without access to the internet. In White Township, more than thirty-five percent of the middle-class lacks access to high-speed broadband. We’ve got to fix that.
Those slower speeds mean a student can’t stream a live video of online instruction or participate in live debate with their class.
Without this access or faster speeds, children will effectively miss out on months of education, causing incalculable damage to their development.
The New York Times has reported that most students will have fallen behind in learning by the time they start school for the 2020-2021 academic year, compared to learning gains that could be made when students were in the classroom. Some students may have even lost a full year’s worth of learning.
Student learning may continue to fall behind if schools continue to conduct full or partial remote learning in the fall, particularly if students have trouble connecting to their classrooms virtually. Researchers said high school dropout rates could increase and young students could miss out on learning fundamental skills.
With our local economy in mind, more and more businesses are relying on cloud-based information storage, and so many are moving to communication systems that require some form of internet access. This trend has only increased due to the pandemic and we cannot fall behind.
We have many towns here, like Knowlton, where there are literally neighborhoods on dial-up speeds, making it very hard to work or learn.
With some businesses needing to move more online to continue to be able to access customers — all so that they can bring in dollars and stay afloat — they need high-speed broadband too. For most businesses, you can’t compete these days unless you have strong, reliable, affordable broadband.
Without those proper speeds and access, you have business owners who are unable to communicate with their customers or market their products and services online.
Prior to the pandemic, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report found that 66 percent of rural small businesses surveyed reported issues with poor broadband connectivity impacted their businesses. The pandemic forcing so much of small businesses’ work online, has clearly only made this problem worse.
With public health in mind, especially right now, it can be easier and safer to see your doctor remotely. Telehealth has been a lifeline for so many patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those in rural areas. Virtual visits via phone or video can help doctors treat patients with non-urgent medical cases or routine management of mental health, diabetes, heart disease, and many other medical conditions.
A recent study found that, since the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one in four adults have used telehealth services to continue their medical care remotely. This has been a critical lifeline to preserve hospital space for those who have tested positive for COVID, those with pre-existing conditions who would be safer staying at home, and those who need regular appointments with their health care providers to stay healthy.
My job is to help make sure we get the federal support and investment we need to make that happen.
The good news is that the bipartisan CARES Act , which I was proud to help pass the House in March, included hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to increase broadband infrastructure and internet connected devices to support telehealth, telework, and telelearning.
These resources went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service’s (RUS) Reconnect Pilot Program to support investment in rural areas — as well as USDA’s Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband Program for investment to rural communities for access telecom-enabled info, audio, and video equipment.
The CARES Act also invested in the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program; to expand services and capacity for rural hospitals; to help support distance education; and for telehealth and enhanced bandwidth and support for the veterans community.
On top of that, here locally, the CARES Act got $1.7 million in investment to Zufall Health Center, which has locations in Newton and Hackettstown, to support their ongoing work in telehealth and community care.
The CARES Act has also sent $40 million in investment to higher education institutions in the Fifth District to help support schools and help students pay for basic essentials in the wake of the outbreak. In Sussex and Warren, this went to Sussex County Community College, Warren County Community College, and Centenary University.
For the Fifth District’s elementary and secondary schools, we’ve received $7 million in CARES Act investments to help schools provide quality education through remote learning.
In the most recent COVID package the House passed — the HEROES Act — which has been sitting in the Senate for three months — we provided $1.5 billion in broadband funding to help close the homework gap by providing Wi-Fi hotspots and connected devices for students and an additional $4 billion for emergency home connectivity needs. The HEROES Act also included additional investment to expand FCC’s Rural Health Care Program to help providers expand and improve their broadband connectivity.
Just last month, the House passed bipartisan legislation that included my provision to increase investment in broadband infrastructure to help address the challenges facing unserved and underserved areas.
My legislation increases investment in the FCC broadband infrastructure grant program, and it will get us another step closer to making the investments in rural broadband infrastructure that North Jersey needs.
Now the Senate will pass a version of this bill and our two chambers will conference together to get something to the President’s desk, and I hope we’ll have that investment boost by the end of the year.
On other fronts, I’ve continually written to House and Senate leadership about including investment for broadband infrastructure and tele-health programs in future coronavirus relief packages.
I am a co-sponsor of the Emergency Educational Connections Act (H.R.6563), which would create a special $2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund at the FCC to get investment to schools and libraries to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-connected devices for students.
I am also a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Rural Broadband Acceleration Act (H.R. 7022), which directs the FCC to invest in shovel-ready, high-speed internet projects immediately, so consumers can access broadband within a year, by accelerating the deployment of funds to bidders in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).
I am a co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation to increase investment for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program of the FCC for this fiscal year as we’re seeing more and more medical appointments move online (H.R. 7760).
In early July, the House passed H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act — a sweeping legislative package investing in rebuilding America’s infrastructure, like our crumbling roads, tunnels, and bridges, as well as improving and expanding rural broadband infrastructure — all while creating millions of good-paying jobs.
Part of the Moving Forward Act expands high-speed Internet to underserved communities with investment that promotes competition, connects children to remote learning, closes broadband adoption and digital skills gaps, and improves affordability.
While our current difficulties won’t last forever, we do need to work together and find solutions so that our children can learn online, grow, and so that they can continue to prosper – and our businesses can succeed. Our fight in Congress is carrying on — to ensure North Jersey gets the federal resources, the federal investment, and that our families, businesses, and local communities get all the support they need — a battle I am committed to fighting for our shared constituents.
I’m lucky to be joined by leaders in our local governments and in our schools, and experts in the space, who can attest to just how vital broadband is to our communities, to our students, to our residents and businesses, and to all the members of the communities whom you serve.
The purpose of this roundtable is to identify problems and work together to find solutions. We need to address the obstacles.
I will continue to work with the providers and our great mayors and councils and school leaders to help expand access to high-speed broadband, to get costs down, and make it easier to install the physical infrastructure necessary to connect our homes, schools, and businesses to the broadband we all need.
We live in the greatest country in the world and our businesses and our students should be able to compete in the global marketplace.
By working together on this, I know our best days will always be ahead of us.