Connecting every New Jerseyan to the future

Hopewell Twp. Mayor Paul Ritter III. – Courtesy photo

Is Hopewell Township a model community for closing the digital divide in New Jersey? When it comes to connecting families to the future, the answer is absolutely.

The Hopewell Township committee has authorized me to sign a historic agreement to bring high-speed broadband internet to every home, farm and small business in our community. This achievement is unprecedented in our state, and it’s only possible because we took a uniquely effective approach. The pandemic showed us that no community can thrive if its residents remain without this critical service. To connect all of New Jersey, local and state officials should follow Hopewell Township’s lead.

Some backstory: A number of our neighbors have long struggled without access to high-speed broadband. Seven percent of our families, friends and neighbors are unserved. During the pandemic, this inconvenience became a full-blown crisis.

Imagine trying to navigate the past few years without internet. If you’re a student, it is infinitely harder to get the education you need and deserve. If you’re a small business owner, you struggle to reach your customers. If you’re a veteran or senior, you miss out on the telehealth services that you can depend on to stay healthy.

The pandemic permanently changed how much we rely on high-speed broadband. Anyone who is without internet access at home or the office and must rely on expensive and unreliable cellular options is ultimately cut off from their future. We simply can’t allow that to continue.

As mayor, with the full support of the township committee, I chose to prioritize solving this problem with the help of new federal grants from the American Rescue Plan. We knew this process would be complex. Yet, as a business owner myself, I also knew that we could control costs and reach every home, instead of just most of them.

That’s why we chose a partnership with Comcast. We set up a competitive bidding process to find an internet provider that could deploy the fastest broadband at the most affordable rate. We also wanted a company we could depend on to operate this infrastructure in the long term, while creating local jobs.

We got what we were looking for: a proven company and a path to success. Hopewell Township is now on track to connect every home and business to high-speed broadband by early 2024.

Statewide, too many New Jerseyans still lack broadband internet access. Partnerships such as this are the fastest way to connect homes and businesses, as well as the most cost-effective.

This savings can be used by cities and community organizations to reach people who have access to broadband but haven’t adopted it. For example, in Cumberland County, though only 2.7% of homes lack broadband access, more than 20% haven’t connected due to cost or lack of digital literacy skills.

Monthly subscription costs have been solved, thanks to the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal benefit that provides up to $30 off internet bills. That means we can focus on raising awareness of that benefit and providing training to make sure our residents can take advantage of all the internet has to offer.

New Jersey can connect 100% of our fellow citizens to broadband internet and the future it brings. We’re doing just that in Hopewell Township, and we want to see it happen in every community in our state.

Paul Ritter III is mayor of Hopewell Township.