Across California, regional and community-based leaders have been working tirelessly to address the digital crisis gripping California. On Tuesday, more than 100 leaders gathered during an online session to help guide and shape a new state Broadband Action Plan under development by the state of California.
Under a September Executive Order by Governor Gavin Newsom, the California Broadband Council is tasked with developing a new State Broadband Action Plan by the end of the year. In response, the state is seeking feedback from four stakeholder groups: Community members and institutions, internet service providers, local governments, and tribal organizations.
This week’s virtual “listening session,” hosted by California Forward, was convened to generate discussion among the first group – community-based voices – to help identify top priorities for the new plan. Under the Executive Order, the plan must include, among other things, a “roadmap to accelerate the deployment and adoption of broadband by state agencies and to support such deployment and adoption by local governments.”
Micah Weinberg, CEO of California Forward, highlighted for the participants the efforts of the California Economic Summit in recent years to close the “Digital Divide” in California, where far too many residents, businesses and communities face inadequate or absent broadband services. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession have exacerbated the problem.
“This is often cited as being the civil rights issue of our time,” Weinberg said, noting that it reaches across “not just rural areas but urban areas and all over our state.”
Stephanie Tom, deputy director of broadband and digital literacy at the California Department of Technology, led the online listening session. She explained that the California Broadband Council has mapped out a process for gathering public input and developing the new plan, which will be reviewed and updated annually.
“We want to make sure we have diverse and inclusive feedback throughout this entire process,” Tom said.
Trish Kelly, managing director of Valley Vision and co-lead of the California Economic Summit’s Broadband Work Group, moderated the discussion, noting that the state’s new action plan will provide “an opportunity for all of us to really move forward.”
During the listening session, participants provided ideas and input for the plan on priorities for data and mapping, funding, deployment, adoption, and removing barriers to progress. The input highlighted the breadth and complexity of the digital crisis, including the need to develop modern and efficient networks, ensure accurate mapping of service gaps, address service provider challenges, and identify adequate funding solutions. Additionally, participants were invited to contribute to a survey that will serve as public comment to be considered in development of the plan.
The themes expressed during the online listening session were consistent with those that have arisen through the California Economic Summit’s efforts to address the broadband crisis in California. Summit partners and broadband stakeholders worked collectively in the months leading up to and following last year’s California Economic Summit in Fresno to formulate a recommendation statement urging Governor Gavin Newsom to develop a Statewide Broadband Action Policy to drive broadband deployment in all corners of the state. The statement was endorsed by a broad array of voices.
The policy recommendation to the Governor came on the heels of Newsom’s inspiring address at last year’s Summit, where he discussed initiatives to strengthen economic growth and inclusion across California. During the Summit, the Administration announced it would embark on a “Broadband for All” plan for the state to advance digital equity. The recent September 2020 Executive Order helps move that plan into existence.
California Forward will host a second listening session for community groups on the new state Broadband Action Plan Thursday, October 29, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., at which time the draft plan will be reviewed and further input will be gathered. To register for this second session click here. Additionally, public comments can be submitted verbally by attending California Broadband Council meetings or by submitting written comments to CABroadbandCouncil@state.ca.gov.