Sweeney-Doria-Turner Bill Allowing Public Entities To Develop Wireless Broadband Infrastructure Advances In Committee

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Steve Sweeney, Joseph Doria and Shirley Turner which would authorize local entities to develop wireless broadband infrastructure and contract with private Internet service providers to establish wireless community networks was unanimously approved by the Senate Economic Growth Committee.

“As the World Wide Web has evolved to incorporate more of our day-to-day activities, Internet service is quickly becoming a necessity, not a luxury,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “With a mouse click, you can pay your bills, reach out to elected representatives, perform academic research, and keep in touch with friends and family. By ensuring easy access to Internet service for New Jersey families through a municipal, county or regional wireless network, we’re taking a vital next step in the advancement of home computing.”

“For many families at or near the poverty line, this bill would make Internet access a reality,” said Senator Doria, D-Hudson. “Often, economically-disadvantaged students suffer in their coursework because they cannot afford to use the Internet as the valuable research resource it has become. By offering wireless access to municipally-maintained networks, we can provide low-cost access to those families in greatest need, and ensure that more students can make use of this valuable educational tool.”

“Large-scale wireless networking has the added benefit of ensuring constant access to information, regardless of your location,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “With a network-equipped laptop, New Jerseyans will be able to access the most complex data on the go, which is especially important in this era of telecommuting and increased demand. Wireless networks will do for computers what cell phones accomplished for the telephone.”

The bill, a Senate Committee Substitute for S-2053 and S-2368, would authorize any county, municipality, or joint authority to construct, own and operate broadband telecommunications infrastructure for the purpose of providing wireless community network access. The bill would authorize the public entity to enter into a competitive contract with a private business to assist with the development of the wireless network, and allow the entity to sell capacity in the government-owned broadband infrastructure. The bill would require public notification of any proposal or provision for wireless networking, and would only allow the public entity to offer broadband wireless access if the cost doesn’t affect the entity’s ability to provide other legally-mandated services, such as police protection.

Currently, there are over 300 local governments developing or providing wireless Internet access as of March, 2004, including a joint project being undertaken by Camden and Gloucester counties. A large-scale WiFi network is also under development in Philadelphia.

“In certain rural areas in New Jersey, broadband Internet access providers have still not realized the promise of a real World Wide Web,” said Senator Sweeney, who proposed the Camden-Gloucester wireless network project in his capacity as the Gloucester County Freeholder Board Chairman. “Wiring issues in South Jersey have limited many families to slower dial-up networks, and as broadband speeds continue to increase, these families are left in the dust. By giving local governments the ability to provide large-scale Internet access, we can low-cost broadband access to everyone.”

“In areas where wireless broadband is being developed and maintained by government, service costs are reduced in half, if not more,” said Senator Turner. “Municipalities have more negotiating power than individual consumers, and can provide wireless access at a fraction of the costs of private Internet service. Where broadband Internet service might have been out-of-reach for some families in the past due to the high cost, government-maintained networks offer a solution.”

“Government services can also benefit from wireless networking,” said Senator Doria. “Police officers, social services workers, public utility employees – each could take advantage of the increased productivity a seamless broadband network provides while performing their duties in the field. Along with providing necessary access to families, wireless networking could go a long way to improving municipal services.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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