California Has a Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to Close the Digital Divide

1024 576 John Guenther

While California ended most restrictions related to COVID-19 today, the state still must deal with the effects of the pandemic, particularly the inequities it exposed, including the digital divide. The Public Utilities Commission estimates that 2.3 million Californians have no broadband access at modern speeds, with low-income, Latino, Black, Indigenous, and rural Californians left disproportionately unconnected.

Fortunately, Governor Gavin Newsom has put forward a visionary budget proposal to invest $7 billion in broadband infrastructure, including $4 billion to build a statewide open-access middle mile network along the state highway system that would make high speed broadband affordable and feasible for every community in the state. Local government and non-profit leaders from across the state have joined together to support the proposal.

“Governor Newsom’s historic broadband proposal gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to close the digital divide. I applaud him for his leadership. This is an equity issue. This is an economic competitiveness issue,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “The best time to have closed the digital divide was 25 years ago. The second-best time is right now. I urge the Legislature to approve the Governor’s proposal.”

“Reliable broadband is not a luxury; it’s a modern-day necessity for all Californians. California Forward and the California Economic Summit have long been committed to solutions that improve equity in broadband access and affordability and we’re proud to join leaders in urging the State Legislature to adopt the governor’s $7 billion broadband infrastructure plan,” said John Chiang, co-chair of California Forward’s Leadership Council. “Our children, families, communities and businesses need broadband now. Delaying any further will disproportionately impact populations that have the most to gain.”

The lack of broadband access impacts every corner of California, from the most rural parts of Mono County to the heart of Los Angeles.

“Is it essential that we approve Governor Newsom’s proposed appropriation of $7 billion over a multi-year period for broadband infrastructure and improved access to broadband services. In Los Angeles County’s Second District, up to 30% of our residents do not have an internet subscription in their home. We need bold action now. The stark digital divide is hurting families, increasing our racial wealth gap, and decimating our communities who need access to affordable internet options the most,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

“Can you imagine the uproar if a third of California’s population was without electricity or running water? Broadband is just as essential for modern life these days, but in rural counties, about 30 percent of homes don’t have any options for broadband access at all. In some places, as many as half of the households lack broadband plans,” stated John Peters, Mono County Supervisor. “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build 21st-century infrastructure using federal dollars to connect California, and do so in a way that will allow for better leveraging of future funding for last mile broadband projects. Broadband is a public good that addresses the inequity in basic services experienced in rural California.”

A new, statewide, open-access, middle-mile broadband network is an excellent use of one-time dollars that will grow the economy, connect the unconnected, and increase future revenues. It will also increase internet affordability for all Californians by making more competition possible in the internet service sector. Currently, when it comes to broadband, about 40% of the state has access to only one provider or none at all.

“LAEDC applauds Governor Newsom’s proposed $7 billion investment over three years to expand broadband infrastructure, increase affordability, and enhance access to broadband for all Californians. Eliminating the digital divide is the sole focus of our LA Digital Equity Action League, and our more than 100 partner organizations in LA DEAL look forward to working closely with the Governor and Legislature and California Public Utilities Commission to ensure that every California resident has access to affordable high speed Internet as soon as possible,” said Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation CEO Bill Allen.

“UNITE-LA strongly supports Gov. Newsom’s broadband proposal to invest $7 billion of state surplus and federal funds over the next three years. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to eliminate the digital divide and ensure every Californian can access education opportunities, workforce development programming, and jobs of today and the future. Delaying this investment will only prolong the widening equity gap. That is why, as a co-convener of the LA Digital Equity Action League, UNITE-LA will work with our region’s under and unserved communities to elevate their voices until everyone has high-speed, affordable and reliable internet and can fully adopt it,” said UNITE-LA CEO David Rattray.

Click here to watch a recording of the news conference and here for a text transcript.

Beth Willon – (408) 660-5174
Communications Director for Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez
Sara Floor – (916) 926-8769
Communications Manager California State Association of Counties


John Guenther

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