California is well positioned to benefit from broadband access funds included in the recently passed and signed Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (IIJA). That’s the message state leaders and experts conveyed in this week’s webinar, “Federal Infrastructure Funds for California: Broadband and Beyond,” hosted by CA FWD and the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), and co-sponsored by more than 40 organizations.
“California is a little bit ahead of the game because of how long we’ve been at this,” said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla. He added that the state is not starting from scratch in terms of state level investment and commitment to broadband infrastructure. “We know with increasing precision where the underserved areas of the state remain and what the ballpark costs are to connect people.”
According to the California Public Utilities Commission, the state has more underserved households than any other state with more than 50% of rural households, nearly 30% of tribal households and nearly 50% of urban households lacking any broadband service at 100 Mbps (modern benchmark speed).
The IIJA includes $65 billion for broadband, $48.2 billion of that will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and will go toward the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD), middle-mile broadband, tribal connectivity and digital equity and inclusion programs.
Evelyn Remaley, NTIA administrator and acting assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, said that California will receive a minimum of $100 million in the initial allocation, but the final number won’t be known until next summer. “The Broadband Data Act requires the FCC to include state data in their new maps. So, California’s continued effort to gather more granular data about served and unserved areas will help ensure you receive the funding necessary to close remaining gaps.”
California Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-San Bernardino) agreed, “The California Legislature is well positioned to partner with the federal government and to leverage federal funds with state investment.” This year, California made an historic investment in broadband infrastructure with the passage of SB 156.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Joanne Hovis emphasized that the IIJA is a very big deal because of the scale of funding and the fact that it is a bipartisan effort. “The great majority of the funding that is targeted for broadband in the IIJA and also in the American Rescue Plan Act is flowing through state government and that, in my view, is a very good thing and I think it’s particularly good for California.”
She added, “I really do think that all of the thinking, the planning, the rigorous analysis and the effort of the past decade or more that you have undertaken position you now for this moment.”
CETF’s President and CEO Sunne Wright McPeak discussed priorities for California. “We have to have a focus on rural and urban and every household has to be treated as if they have equal access to high-speed internet, a 21st-century civil right.”
To secure the broadband funds for California, Senator Padilla asked Californians to get involved. “Let’s be proactive, let’s start engaging in the conversation with folks that will be writing the rules and continue to bring forward the basic needs of California as a whole (as well as) the different regions of the state.”
Hovis concluded, “I don’t know if we’ll ever see a moment like this, not on the infrastructure side anyway, this is a one-time opportunity.”
You can watch the entire webinar here.