With a historic $6 billion investment in broadband on the horizon, California has a once in a generation opportunity to truly achieve “Broadband For All” if we make the right investments.
We’ve secured the funding necessary to bring more Californians online, but that is only the first step – how we decide to spend the $6 billion is just as important. At present, there are no parameters stipulating how or where this funding must be utilized. If California policymakers do not effectively define a clear path to success, we could drain our $6 billion broadband budget without making any progress towards closing our state’s digital divide.
The California Legislature has the great privilege and responsibility to ensure our state’s $6 billion investment does not go to waste. Let’s ensure we can bridge California’s digital divide through policies that achieve the following objectives.
More than 463,000 California households do not have broadband access today1— including more than 1 in 4 residents living in California’s rural counties. As California legislators consider how to utilize the $6 billion budget proposal, connecting these unserved residents to high-speed Internet must be California’s utmost priority and the centerpiece of our state’s broadband plan. Yet, at present, it is not. California legislators should:
California’s proposed $3.25 billion investment in middle-mile infrastructure remains a network to nowhere. The state has not implemented any requirements that middle-mile investments must be coupled with last-mile connectivity. Meaning, Californians will have new Internet “highways” without any on/off ramps to access the highways. Additionally, broadband funds must be disbursed quickly—federal funds included in the California broadband plan need to be allocated by the end of 2024. To ensure the state utilizes all available funds to quickly connect unserved California households to Internet service, California legislators should:
As we work towards achieving “Broadband For All”, we must not lose sight of the fact that more than 98%2 of Californians have access to broadband at or above speeds of 25/3, but only 74% actually subscribe for service.3 It is illogical that the biggest driver of California’s digital divide – broadband adoption—is not clearly addressed in the state’s $6 billion broadband plan. California legislators should:
Availability: FCC Form 477, Census NBM Reports (as of December 31, 2019, most recent available). Under the FCC’s current Form 477 reporting requirements, a census block (CB) is reported served by a particular speed/technology combination if at least one location is able to be served. The remainder of the CB’s locations may or may not be able to receive the same service.
Subscribership: 2021 Broadband Deployment Report (as of December 31, 2019, most recent available).
1“2020 Annual Report California Advanced Services Fund.” California Public Utilities Commission, Apr. 2021
2FCC Form 477, Census NBM Reports (as of December 31, 2019, most recent available)
3Subscribership: 2021 Broadband Deployment Report (as of December 31, 2019, most recent available)
The COVID-19 pandemic underscored how broadband access is critical to advancing opportunities for every Californian. For the first time, broadband equity for all Californians is possible—but only if we use this historic broadband investment to prioritize smart solutions and unserved communities.
California can continue to leave chronically unserved and historically hard-to-reach families behind, or we can make them our top priority. We can waste billions on stranded infrastructure that won’t connect any California households to Internet service, or we can ensure that every dollar is invested wisely in projects that are guaranteed to connect unserved Californians. California legislators need to continue to lead and make “Broadband For All” a reality.
Californians for Broadband Equity is a coalition dedicated to closing the digital divide for the state’s chronically unserved and hard-to-reach communities. Together, we advocate for policies that will ensure every Californian will have access to affordable, reliable broadband—and the critical education, health and economic opportunities that come with it.