Assemblyman ANDREW ZWICKER
District 16 (Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset)
Assemblyman HERB CONAWAY, JR.
District 7 (Burlington)
Assemblyman DANIEL R. BENSON
District 14 (Mercer and Middlesex)
Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, Assemblymen Verrelli, Giblin, Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson, Assemblyman Moen, Assemblywomen Pinkin, Carter, Assemblymen Caputo, Freiman, Johnson, Assemblywomen Lopez, Downey, Timberlake, Swain and Assemblyman Tully
Establishes office in BPU to assist in provision and expansion of broadband Internet service in State to address inequities in accessing broadband service.
CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT
As reported by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on October 26, 2020, with amendments.
An Act concerning broadband Internet service and supplementing Title 48 of the Revised Statutes.
Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. a. The Legislature finds and declares that:
(1) The efforts taken to contain the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have resulted in residents, especially students, and certain businesses in this State being required to perform their day-to-day activities from home or otherwise from a remote location, and with the start of the school year, it is especially important for students and educators engaged in remote learning to have Internet access suitable for their needs;
(2) Telehealth services, which are accessed through the Internet, have been offered to the public prior to and during the pandemic due to COVID-19, will continue to help to improve equitable access to healthcare;
(3) To properly perform telehealth services, remote student learning, and other activities during the pandemic, students, workers, and employers are required to have access to Internet service at broadband speeds to transmit data, graphics, video, and voice communications quickly and efficiently;
(4) To document and quantify the extent of the provision of broadband Internet (broadband) service deployment in the United States, twice a year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all broadband service providers (providers) to file Form 477 with the FCC, on which providers indicate where they offer service at speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second in at least one direction, the minimum speed to be deemed as offering broadband service;
(5) Presently, the FCC’s method in determining broadband connectivity, as determined by the information offered on Form 477, allows for a provider to claim that an area is covered when the provider attests that it could serve an area within a census block, even when the people of that area have no access to broadband service;
(6) The FCC’s website confirms the potential for inaccuracy in this methodology by stating that, “[p]roviders may not offer service to every home in every [census] block in which they report service. The calculations…treat every location as having service, and may therefore over-estimate broadband coverage, particularly in areas with large census blocks”;
(7) In 2018, a study by the Microsoft Corporation found that 162.8 million people in this country are not using the Internet at broadband speeds, which far exceeds the FCC’s estimated number of people without broadband service access at 25 million, a number determined by the data reported from Form 477;
(8) A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that only 73 percent of American adults had high-speed Internet access at home and this figure was even lower in rural areas and low-income areas;
(9) Having accurate information concerning broadband service connectivity in this State is necessary to determine how to better focus resources on providing broadband service to underserved areas in New Jersey;
(10) Disadvantaged individuals in New Jersey do not have the means to pay for broadband service, especially during this time of high unemployment due to COVID-19, because of the high cost of this service;
(11) A significant amount of residents and small businesses located in rural areas of this State still do not have access to broadband service;
(12) This public health emergency has exposed the so-called “digital divide” in this State, making it difficult for rural and low-income areas to access medical care, continue education, and maintain employment; and
(13) This lack of access exacerbates social, economic, income, and health inequalities in this State that can be addressed by taking measures that secure broadband access for areas in need.
b. The Legislature therefore determines that:
(1) It shall be the public policy of this State to foster the provision of wired broadband service to disadvantaged individuals and to residents and small businesses located within rural areas of this State as a measure to lessen the negative economic effects of COVID-19 and the overall economy of this State;
(2) In order to foster the provision of wired broadband service to these residents and businesses, the State of New Jersey should have a role in meeting this need, and to serve as a source of funding for fiber optic or other wireline-based broadband service provided by State, federal, or local government entities and by private entities;
(3) The establishment of a Broadband Assistance Office within the Board of Public Utilities, having duties and responsibilities that include, but not limited to, the review and approval of proposed projects providing for the deployment of fiber optic or other wireline-based broadband service to disadvantaged individuals and in underserved areas, and the provision of financing for these projects, would meet this important need; and
(4) It shall be a goal for the State’s residents and businesses to have universal access to a fiber optic or other wireline-based broadband service provider, offering data transfer speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and at least three Mbps upload by 2023 and at least 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload by 2027. This goal shall allow for the Broadband Assistance Office to increase these minimum data transfer speeds as broadband service technology or capability advances.
2. As used in P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill):
“Authority” means the New Jersey Economic Development Authority established pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1974, c.80 (C.34:1B-4).
“Board” means the Board of Public Utilities or any successor agency.
“Broadband Internet service” or “broadband service” means any fiber optic or other wireline-based Internet or other information service used for the purpose of offering high speed, switched, broadband wireline communications capability that enables users to send and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, or video communications through the Internet and using any technology and with data transfer speeds of at least 25 megabits per second download and at least three megabits per second upload. These minimum data transfer speeds may be increased by an amount determined by Broadband Assistance Office as broadband service technology or capability advances. “Broadband Internet service” shall not mean or include any Internet or information service that, in part, uses wireless communications equipment or facilities.
“Broadband Internet service infrastructure” or “broadband infrastructure” means fiber optic or other wireline-based information equipment and facilities, 1including point-to-point communication connections between two communication endpoints or nodes,1 information systems, and information technology used for the purpose of providing fiber optic or other wireline-based broadband Internet service. “Broadband Internet service infrastructure” shall not mean or include any Internet or information service equipment or facilities that, in part, use 1point-to-multipoint wireless communications facilities or other1 wireless communications equipment or facilities.
“Broadband Internet service provider” or “service provider” means a person, company, corporation, unincorporated association, partnership, or professional corporation which 1[is certified by the board to offer] offers1 fiber optic or other wireline-based broadband Internet service directly to the public, or to classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used.
“Broadband office” means the “Broadband Assistance Office” established within the Board of Public Utilities pursuant to section 3 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
“Broadband project” means a project developed, in whole or in part, for a new or existing broadband Internet service infrastructure or broadband Internet service, or both.
“Fund” means the “State Broadband 1[Assistance]1 Fund” established pursuant to section 1 61 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
“Government entity” means the State, its subdivisions, and any department, agency, commission, authority, board, or instrumentality thereof, a county, a municipality, a regional or municipal authority, a quasi-State agency, a State-created corporation, a municipal corporation. “Governmental entity” may include a combination of governmental entities as defined herein.
“Office of Information Technology” means the Office of Information Technology established pursuant to section 9 of P.L.2007, c.56 (C.52:18A-227).
“Private entity” means a person, a combination of persons, a business entity, a combination of business entities, or a combination of persons and business entities.
“Public-private partnership agreement” or “P3 agreement” means an agreement entered into by a governmental entity and a private entity for the purposes of undertaking a broadband project approved by the broadband office pursuant to section 3 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
3. a. There is hereby established in the Board of Public Utilities a “Broadband Assistance Office.” The broadband office shall be responsible for the formulation and execution of a comprehensive Statewide policy that fosters the provision of wired broadband service by government or private entities, developing a broadband project, or both, if these entities develop a broadband project under a public-private partnership agreement, and shall be responsible for the development, promotion, coordination, oversight, and approval of a broadband project developed pursuant to P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
b. The broadband office, in cooperation with the authority, shall establish guidelines for the broadband office’s approval, designation, operation, and reporting of a proposed broadband project, including any proposed broadband project developed under a P3 agreement, in a manner determined by the broadband office. The broadband office, in cooperation with the authority, shall oversee, coordinate, and provide assistance to a broadband project approved by the broadband office pursuant to P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
c. The broadband office shall consult and coordinate with representatives of other State departments, agencies, boards, and authorities, including the authority and the Office of Information Technology, as the broadband office, authority, and Office of Information Technology shall deem necessary and appropriate, to accomplish the goals of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
d. The broadband office shall identify the resources and personnel of the board, the authority, and other participating agencies, departments, boards, and authorities of the State that are deemed necessary and appropriate to support the broadband office. The board may retain one or more qualified private consultants with relevant expertise to provide the technical assistance and resources deemed necessary and appropriate to assist the broadband office.
4. To accomplish the duties and responsibilities described in section 3 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), the broadband office shall be responsible for:
a. in conjunction with the Office of Information Technology, mapping Internet connectivity within the State;
b. engaging with stakeholders, such as broadband infrastructure developers, broadband service providers, and local government and school officials representing underserved communities;
c. in conjunction with the authority, coordinating financial and technical assistance to municipalities wherein underserved communities are located, which include households and small businesses that cannot afford to receive broadband service or areas within municipalities that lack adequate broadband service;
d. establishing policies and procedures that encourage government and private entity participation and investment in broadband projects as necessary and appropriate to implement the provisions of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill);
e. providing technical advice, guidance, and assistance to government and private entities to ensure the availability of the necessary expertise and capacity to develop and evaluate the merits of proposed broadband projects;
f. promoting informed and timely decision-making with regard to the development of broadband projects;
g. establishing appropriate qualification criteria for government and private entities, including the qualification of private entities undertaking a broadband project under a P3 agreement; and
h. monitoring and enforcing the broadband project policies and procedures established pursuant to P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), which may include a provision for potential revenue sharing opportunities between a government entity and a private entity in certain defined or agreed circumstances, including broadband projects that achieve profits that exceed a negotiated rate of return established for a private entity in a P3 agreement.
5. In evaluating a proposed broadband project, the broadband office shall:
a. consider whether leasing or purchasing established broadband infrastructure, such as unused fiber optic cable, is more advantageous in providing faster broadband service;
b. consider whether establishing a government entity or a non-profit corporation is appropriate to provide broadband infrastructure or broadband service to an underserved community;
c. evaluate the different methods, including P3 agreements with private entities, that other communities in this country have used to provide broadband infrastructure or broadband service to an underserved community;
d. determine the most cost effective method in which to establish broadband infrastructure and broadband service, with a cost estimate for a community and a price estimate for paying customers; and
e. explore all possible federal, State, and private sources of funding and technical assistance for the establishment of broadband infrastructure and broadband service in underserved communities and populations of this State.
6. a. There is established in the Board of Public Utilities a separate non-lapsing fund to be known as the “State Broadband Fund” for use by the broadband office to adequately and properly perform its duties and responsibilities in carrying out the requirements of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill). The board, in consultation with the authority, shall determine the level of funding and the appropriate administration of the fund. With financial assistance from the authority and any available funding from federal, State, and private entity sources, the board shall provide sufficient funding to the broadband office to enable the broadband office to provide funding for underserved communities to pay for broadband service and for the installation or expanded use of broadband infrastructure for communities that lack broadband access, specifically the portion of a communications infrastructure network that physically reaches the residents' or small business’s premises within those communities.
b. The board, in
consultation with the authority, is authorized to seek and accept gifts,
donations, grants, or loans from public or private sources, including, but not
limited to, any funding provided by the Federal Communications Commission or
any funding from a non-profit foundation, specifically for the provision of broadband
infrastructure or broadband service, except that the board and authority shall
not accept a gift, donation, grant, or loan that is subject to conditions that
are inconsistent with any other law of this State.
7. The board, in consultation with the authority, shall annually prepare a report to the Governor and, pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1), to the Legislature regarding the number, nature, structure, and scope of each broadband project developed pursuant to P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) and whether the broadband project is developed under a P3 agreement. The report shall include:
a. a description of the broadband project and its location;
b. the costs incurred for the broadband project;
c. the number of jobs created and other economic and societal benefits of the broadband project;
d. the increase in the use and demand for broadband service as a result of the broadband project;
e. if applicable, the enhancements to the resiliency and reliability of the broadband service within the State; and
f. other relevant information as determined by the board.
The report shall address any issues related to the implementation P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), including staffing and resource requirements of the broadband office. The report shall set forth recommendations, including recommendations for legislation, concerning how the processes and methods adopted to foster the development of broadband projects and any related P3 agreements under P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) may be improved, expanded, or made more efficient.
8. The board shall promulgate rules and regulations, pursuant to the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), as are necessary to implement the provisions of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill). The board may be assisted, as appropriate, by other participating agencies, departments, boards, and authorities, including the authority and the Office of Information Technology, in the promulgation of necessary rules and regulations.
9. This act shall take effect immediately.