As federal officials debate pouring billions of dollars into broadband access, data suggests many of New Jersey’s schoolchildren and adults who preferred to work from home spent the pandemic with sub-par access to high-speed internet, particularly in the state’s least-wealthy counties.
Advocates say that “digital divide” across the United States is due largely to two factors: a lack of internet infrastructure in the country’s rural reaches and the relatively high cost of broadband that has made the service unaffordable for many in urban centers.
In about half of New Jersey’s counties — 11 of 21 — measured by a Federal Communications Commission study, broadband access is available to at least 99% of residents. Yet in about half of the state measured by Microsoft — 11 of 21 counties — no more than 68% of households actually have high-speed access, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of Senate moderates have reached a deal on a far-reaching infrastructure plan that would direct $65 billion to increase broadband connectivity from coast-to-coast. Despite the agreement, it’s unclear whether it would address the solutions some lawmakers want to see such as continued broadband subsidies for low-income families, greater competition among wireless providers and continued buildout of high-speed networks in poorer, rural areas.
The Biden administration estimates 30 million Americans live in areas that lack broadband infrastructure to provide minimally acceptable speeds.
Locally, on the FCC and Microsoft measures:
- In Sussex County, 100% of households could get broadband but 44% actually had it.
- In Warren County, 99% of households could get broadband but 46% actually had it.
- In Morris County, 100% of households could get broadband but 86% actually had it.
The proportions of New Jersey households that have high speed access varies widely: In Sussex County, it’s just 44%; in Salem County, it’s 46%; and in Warren County, it’s 46%. Leading the state are Somerset County with 99%, Morris County with 86% and Mercer County with 79%.
A USA TODAY analysis of data nationwide found a wide gap between rich and poor counties, as measured by median household income. The chasm varies depending on state and county.
Among New Jersey’s wealthiest counties: 68% of Hunterdon County has access, 99% of Somerset County has access and 86% of Morris County has access. Among the least-wealthiest counties, access rates are 52% in Cumberland County, 63% in Essex County and 62% in Atlantic County.
Among the state’s most populated counties: Some 78% of Bergen County households have broadband access, as well as 78% of Middlesex County households and 63% of Essex County households, the Microsoft data shows.
The complete USA TODAY story on national broadband is available on usatoday.com.
Erin Mansfield and Matt Wynn contributed to this report. The USA TODAY Network is publishing localized versions of this story on its news sites across the country, generated with data from Microsoft, the Federal Communications Commission and the White House.