During the summer of 2021, California saw encouraging steps to end the digital crisis, including landmark legislation signed by Governor Newsom in July to invest $ 6 billion in broadband infrastructure and a new federal funding in preparation.
At the same time, communities and local organizations have been working on the front lines, forging partnerships and initiatives to extend broadband to families and communities where sufficient service and access are lacking. Along with recent state and federal investments, these advances are notable contributions towards a more equitable broadband landscape, which has been an ongoing goal of California Forward and the California Economic Summit.
The efforts are reaching both urban and rural areas. They include (among many other civic efforts):
- The kick-off of “Oakland Undived Forever,” a commitment by the City of Oakland and other partners to continue to provide in-home access to the Internet, computing devices, and cultural and knowledgeable technical support for people with disabilities. students and their families.
- The formation of a new Joint Authority of Powers by representatives of rural California counties, dedicated to promoting reliable and affordable broadband in rural areas.
- The formation of a new collaborative regional broadband consortium for Los Angeles County, which was recently approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Here is a brief overview of each initiative:
Oakland undivided forever
When the COVID-19 pandemic led to distance learning last year, the Oakland community quickly learned that less than 12% of students from low-income backgrounds had constant access to a computer, Internet and technical support. The city, in partnership with others, has mobilized an emergency response. Partners included Mayor Libby Schaff’s education office, Oakland Promise, Oakland Public Education Fund, Oakland Unified School District and Tech Exchange.
The goal was to ensure that all needy Oakland Public School students – and their families – had the tools they needed to support online learning and internet interactions at home. A total of $ 12.5 million was raised, supported by a $ 10 million contribution from Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter. Over 29,000 laptops and 10,000 hotspots have been distributed, and a Technical Access Dashboard has been created to track student access to computers and connectivity.
As of last summer, 98% of low-income students had access to a computer, an Internet connection, and culturally appropriate technical support.
These achievements were recognized at a celebration in July. A Phase II sustainability model is now advancing, which includes ongoing fundraising and exploration of city-wide broadband solutions.
Golden State Connect Authority
Rural California faces some of the most difficult broadband challenges, given their rugged terrain and smaller populations who often don’t “think” of traditional broadband providers. Representatives of Rural California Counties (RCRC), which represent 37 member counties, have worked for many years to bridge the digital divide in these areas, which has worsened with the pandemic.
On August 18, the RCRC announced that its board of directors had authorized the formation of the Golden State Connect Authority, a joint authority charged with promoting the development of rural broadband. The effort builds on the enactment of Senate Bill 156, which established the state’s historic $ 6 billion investment in broadband infrastructure.
According to the RCRC, SB 156 offers new opportunities for county entities to operate broadband systems and to contribute to other innovations, including the development of an intermediate open access public network. The RCRC formed the new Authority to enable rural counties to join in exploiting these opportunities to expand broadband in rural counties.
All RCRC member counties are eligible to join the new Authority, which will be led by elected supervisors from the rural counties that choose to join, with day-to-day operations managed by RCRC staff.
LA Digital Equity Action League (LA DEAL)
Statewide, the California Public Utilities Commission has established “Regional Broadband Consortia,” which receive funding through the California Advanced Services Fund’s Regional and Urban Broadband Consortia Grant Account. Consortia play a valuable, on-the-ground and often invisible role in advancing broadband deployment, with a focus on unique regional needs.
On August 19, the Commission awarded a regional broadband consortia grant to the LA Digital Equity Action League (LA DEAL), creating a new regional champion in broadband deployment. The applicant, Los Angeles County Economic Corporation (LAEDC) and its partner, UNITE-LA, have partnered to promote the goal of promoting equitable broadband Internet service in the Los Angeles area for unserved and underserved communities. . A coalition of more than 100 partners from education, government, business and other sectors are working together in this effort.
According to LAEDC, the LA DEAL consortium will operate under the grant to bring together stakeholders, help identify project opportunities and barriers to completion, seek additional funding for broadband infrastructure, and ensure deployment. in communities with the greatest needs.
LAEDC and UNITE-LA are both members of the California Stewardship Network.
At the 2021 California Economic Summit on November 9-10, the Ensuring Broadband For All task force will focus on regional efforts to bridge the digital divide, including supporting the work of the state’s regional broadband consortia. The California Forward Action Fund recently urged lawmakers to maintain a continuous flow of funding for these groups.