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Sweeney-Doria-Turner Bill Allowing Public Entities To Develop Wireless Broadband Infrastructure Receives Senate Approval

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 approved by the Senate today by a vote of 37-0, and is scheduled for a vote in the Assembly later today.

“In today’s world, web access is not a luxury, but a necessity,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “Between paying bills electronically, performing academic research, or keeping in touch with family and friends, the Internet has changed the way we perform so many everyday activities. All New Jerseyans deserve access to broadband Internet access, regardless of their income or where they live.”

“This bill would greatly enhance our access to information, especially for lower-income families and urban New Jerseyans,” said Senator Doria, D-Hudson. “Often, the high cost of broadband Internet access prices it out of the realm of possibility for the State’s working poor. However, through municipally-operated broadband wireless networks, we can buy access in bulk, and pass the savings on to consumers who might not be able to afford a high-speed connection to the World Wide Web.”

“I think this bill bodes particularly well for low-income students, who might not be able to afford the resources to succeed in school,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “We know that the Internet can be a powerful tool in promoting educational advancement, but many poorer students are at a disadvantage, because their families cannot afford high-speed Internet access. This bill ensures that low-cost, high-speed Web access will be attainable for everybody.”

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.

“Communities and regions have begun entering the high-speed wireless network world, and are able to extend coverage where it was previously limited,” said Senator Sweeney, who proposed the Camden-Gloucester wireless network project in his capacity as the Gloucester County Freeholder Board Chairman. “Many areas in South Jersey still have not yet been wired to receive broadband quality Internet access through cable or DSL. Under this legislation, we would make sure that regional differences don’t put New Jerseyans at a technological disadvantage.”

“Internet service is the new telecommunications, and I know that in the not-so-distant future, wireless broadband access will be as commonplace as the home telephone,” said Senator Turner. “By allowing New Jersey’s municipalities and counties to set the framework for municipally-operated wireless networks, we’re putting the Garden State ahead of the game in terms of providing the services New Jerseyans will soon need in everyday life.”

“In addition to providing low-cost Internet access to residents, we would be able to improve municipal services provided to the citizens in the State,” said Senator Doria. “Through a high-speed wireless network, we would be providing access to massive amounts of information to social workers, police officers and other municipal employees who work in the field. Wireless Internet access would allow public servants to cut down on response time and increase government productivity for the people they serve.”

If approved in the Assembly, the bill would head to the Governor to be signed into law.

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