NEWARK, NJ – It’s nice when your building is wired for high-speed Internet. But it doesn’t help much if you can’t afford it — as many people in Newark already know, says a recent study.
A new study by local nonprofits Project Ready and Newark Trust for Education found that the biggest barrier to broadband access is probably “affordability” – not lack of physical infrastructure. In other words, income and poverty are the best predictors of a neighborhood’s access to high-speed broadband, according to researchers.
Read the full report and see its methodology here.
As part of the study, the state’s five largest cities were selected for analysis: Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, and Toms River. For each city, average download speed and household characteristics data were retrieved and cross-referenced at the zip code level.
Here’s what researchers found:
To further test the results, a narrower geographic sample was examined: Newark.
While New Jersey’s average download speed is 136 Mbps, the average Newark family has broadband speeds of just 79.5 Mbps – despite the infrastructure in place. No ZIP code in Newark averages 100 Mbps, the amount a family of four needs, researchers said.
“This study shows that households in the lowest income brackets are about half as likely to have access to the Internet as households in the highest,” said Ronald Chaluisan, executive director of the Newark Trust for Education.
There was some help from federal and state programs, the study noted:
“The [federal] The bipartisan Infrastructure Act introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program to give eligible households a discount of up to $30 per month on their Internet bills. Additionally, New Jersey recently received over $6 million in “Internet for All” planning grants from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to provide affordable, high-speed internet across the state and bridge the digital justice gap.”
There are other government programs that target the digital divide, such as New Jersey’s Lifeline & Affordable Connectivity Program, which is helping make phone and internet services more affordable for low-income residents of the state.
But there is still work to be done before this long-standing problem in the Garden State is resolved, advocates said.
“It doesn’t matter if homes are wired for broadband if residents can’t afford it,” said Shennell McCloud, CEO of Project Ready.
“The internet is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity in today’s world, and poor internet service gets in the way of school, work and everything else a family needs to thrive,” McCloud said, citing the boost for laptops, which took place in schools during the corona pandemic.
“A Chromebook and a hotspot were a good first step, but it’s not enough to close the true digital divide that persists,” McCloud said. “Now is the time for a concerted effort by all stakeholders to bring true ‘Internet Justice’ to New Jersey.”
SURVEY, NEWARK SPEED TEST
The researchers also noted that the City of Newark is launching a citywide broadband survey and speed test as part of efforts to create high-speed Internet access on a “citywide” basis.
Newark officials have been asking residents to take part in the survey for weeks. The closing date for entries is January 25th.
“The City of Newark owns its broadband network and is committed to providing residents, businesses and the Newark community with free or low-cost internet access,” officials wrote in a recent social media post. “We need your input to better understand this and work to make this possible.”
The city has made strides towards online equality in recent years, officials previously reported.
For example, Newark Fiber — the city’s gigabit public-private data network, which went live in 2016 — provides high-speed, supercharged Internet connections in participating residential and commercial buildings, parks, and on some city streets. Continue reading: Free WiFi in Newark; City first in New Jersey to use high-tech kiosks
Pricing ranges from $150 to $2,250 per month and up for commercial customers to $50 per month or less for residential customers.
“Newark has the fastest fiber optics in the world in limited areas, but our strategy beyond that is to provide residents and businesses in every neighborhood with access to high-speed internet,” Mayor Ras Baraka said in December 2019.
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