Momentum finally is growing for closing the Digital Divide in California, with legislative proposals moving forward and significant state and federal investments under consideration.
The state’s broadband crisis is especially prevalent in rural areas and struggling urban communities. Solutions will require marshaling not only sufficient investments and resources, but also new approaches and innovations to achieve results across diverse regions, terrains, and governance structures.
During April, a variety of broadband innovations will be explored as part of CA FWD’s Building Equitable Economies webinar series. Three webinars will be co-hosted by CA FWD and the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) to spotlight innovative models for public agencies and private enterprises to consider in accelerating broadband infrastructure construction. The webinars will be held from 11 a.m. to noon on consecutive Thursdays: April 1, April 8, and April 15.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, having affordable, reliable broadband access is essential for engaging successfully in education, remote work, telehealth services, and other vital pursuits. Yet, as the Public Policy Institute of California recently noted, this everyday necessity is distributed inequitably in our state and unacceptable gaps exist. Consider these facts from the Institute’s February 2021 report:
- 79 percent of Latino households and 81% of African-American households had broadband subscriptions in 2019, compared to the statewide average of 84%. The rates were lower among adults 65 and older (82%), as well as among rural (73%), low-income (76%), and less-educated (80%) households.
- During the pandemic, when nearly all schools moved to distance learning, 26% of K-12 students and nearly 40% of low-income students did not have reliable internet access.
“The inequitable gaps in broadband access have not only existed for far too long, they have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Micah Weinberg, CEO of CA FWD. “Having fast, affordable, and dependable broadband service is not a luxury. It is an absolute necessity for every Californian across each region of our state.”
The trio of webinars will feature presentations and conversations with experts in the field and opportunities for question-and-answer interaction with participants. The webinars will highlight three themes – governance structures, financing models, and broadband provider innovations. The emphasis will be on innovations that have potential for replication and scaling to help meet the state’s statutory goal of at least 98% deployment in all regions.
Here is a look at the featured speakers in upcoming webinars, each taking place from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.:
- April 1, Broadband Funding Innovations
- Sunne Wright McPeak, President and CEO, CETF
- John Chiang, former California State Treasurer and Co-Chair of CA FWD’s Leadership Council
- Marc Powell, Senior Managing Director and Strategy Leader, Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors, LLC
- Michael Henry Misrahi, Partner/Principal, M&A and Strategy Consulting, Ernst & Young Parthenon
- Jehan Thind, CFA Senior, Vice President, Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors, LLC
- April 8, Broadband Governance Innovations
- Cole Przybyla, Director of Innovation and Business Assistance, Tuolumne County
- Jacki Bacharach, Executive Director, South Bay Cities Council of Governments
- Eduardo Gonzalez, Interim Executive Director, Office of Community and Economic Development, California State University, Fresno
- April 15, Broadband Provider Innovations
- John Paul, Chief Business Development Officer, Spiral Fiber
- Doug Patterson, Regional Director, Crown Castle
- Kome Ajise, Executive Director, Southern California Council of Governments
- Trish Kelly, Managing Director, Valley Vision
The broadband webinars are part of a series of 11 webinars running this spring covering a wide range of topics including forest resiliency, housing and affordable home ownership, youth engagement, and sustainable and resilient energy solutions.
Registration details and further information, including past webinars and presentations, can be found here.