In Brief

Poverty, income biggest predictors of internet quality in N.J., study finds

By: - January 9, 2023 1:50 pm

Household income — and not physical connectivity — continues to be the biggest barrier to internet access and quality in New Jersey, a trend disproportionately impacting Black and Latino neighborhoods, a new study has found. (Photo by Steven Puetzer/Getty Images)

new study found that affordability — not a lack of physical infrastructure — drives the digital divide that keeps high-speed internet service out of the hands of many low-income families in New Jersey.

The study by Newark-based nonprofits Project Ready and Newark Trust for Education comes a few weeks after the state launched its own study to identify barriers to service.

The groups found that poverty and income are the best predictors of internet speed and quality, even if sufficient broadband connection exists.

“It doesn’t matter if homes are wired for broadband if residents can’t afford it,” Project Ready CEO Shennell McCloud said in a statement. “The internet is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity in today’s world, and poor internet service gets in the way of school, work, and everything else a family needs to thrive.”

After the pandemic drove so much of daily life online, schools and workplaces scrambled to equip students and workers with the technology and service they needed, narrowing the digital divide, the study notes.

But the divide persists, researchers found. They compared the average internet download speed by zip code in Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, and Toms River.

They found that the highest income households have internet download speeds nearly twice as fast as the lowest income households — and Black and Latino neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted, said Ronald Chaluisan, executive director of the Newark Trust for Education.

New Jersey’s average download speed is 136 megabits per second (Mbps), far faster than the 79.5 Mbps that Newark averages — even when adequate broadband infrastructure is in place, the study found.

A family of four typically needs about 100 Mbps in broadband speed — and no Newark zip code averages that, the study noted. Households making less than $60,000 generally only can afford to access broadband with speeds slower than 100 Mbps, researchers determined.

In comparison, the weighted average broadband speeds in other cities studied were 92.3 Mbps in Paterson; 93.7 Mbps in Elizabeth; 106.4 Mbps in Jersey City; and 164.7 Mbps in Toms River.

“Now is the time for a concerted effort by all stakeholders to bring true ‘internet equity’ to New Jersey,” McCloud said. “We need an all-hands-on-deck approach from all stakeholders to make sure residents are aware of programs that are available to them and to continue the work to bring reliable, affordable broadband to everyone.”

Several government programs are in place to help, including the federal Affordable Connectivity Program that gives income-eligible households a monthly discount on their internet bills of up to $30. New Jersey also recently received more than $6 million in federal “Internet for All” grants to close the digital gap.

Newark also has launched a city-wide broadband survey and speed test in an effort to increase affordability of high-speed internet there.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.