Sweeney-Turner Bill Allowing Public Entities To Develop Wireless Broadband Infrastructure Is Now Law

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Steve Sweeney and Shirley Turner to authorize local entities to develop wireless broadband infrastructure and contract with private Internet service providers to establish wireless community networks was signed into law today by Governor Jon Corzine.

“With the creation of the World Wide Web came access to a wealth of information that can be available at your fingertips, if you have Internet access. All too often, however, the high cost of Internet service acts as a deterrent, preventing families from accessing the valuable research tool,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “Internet services and home computing are rapidly becoming necessities, not luxuries – especially if we want our students to be able to compete for educational opportunities.”

“In its relatively short existence, the Internet has revolutionized the way we gather information. While access to this information is truly helpful, it is not always affordable,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “Studies have shown that service costs of government-maintained wireless broadband networks are often half of what is paid for private internet access. Because they are able to take advantage of economics of scale, local municipalities are able to negotiate better prices for internet service than individual consumers, which helps keep the prices low for residents.”

The new law, S-2053, authorizes 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 also authorizes 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 requires 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.

“This new law will allow families in communities throughout New Jersey to have access to affordably priced internet service, while helping to help ensure that cost will no longer serve as barrier to such a valuable information source,” Senator Sweeney said.

“Whether using your computer for educational research, paying bills, or planning leisure activities, the Internet provides a wealth of valuable information – information that will now be made more available to all New Jerseyans, regardless of their income level,” said Senator Turner.

This law received final legislative approval on June 21.

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