Reporting

Coronavirus Impact Highlights Need for Expanded Broadband in California

March 12, 2020 by Ed Coghlan


(Photo: Lexie Flickinger/Flickr)

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is causing a worldwide health care crisis. It is not only making people sick, it is literally disrupting the lives of just about everyone.

Here in California, Governor Gavin Newsom and California state health officials are recommending the cancellation of any gatherings of more than 250 people to help contain the coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, Disney announced the closure of Disneyland for the rest of March.

With businesses encouraging or requiring employees to work from home and schools transitioning to online learning, more Californians will turn to home internet access for education, business, health care and other critical functions in our state.

This new reality will collide with the fact that many California homes—as many as 12% are lacking any broadband access and nearly that many more are under-connected. That means about three million homes are either unconnected or under-connected—totaling eight million Californians. According the Public Policy Institute of California, in 2017 almost a million school-aged children in California had no home internet connection and 1.7 million did not have broadband connections.

On Wednesday night, the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) hosted a dinner to highlight the urgency of providing affordable and accessible broadband for all Californians, renewed by this latest crisis. CETF is a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to close the digital divide by accelerating the deployment and adoption of broadband.

"The impact of the coronavirus public health crisis in California demonstrates the need for improving access to broadband for all Californians," said Sunne Wright McPeak, CETF president and CEO. "If we are going to lift more people out of poverty in California, it is imperative that all our residents can utilize broadband."

"We need a pace and urgency we’ve never seen before to ensure that broadband is accessible and affordable to all," said Lenny Mendonca, director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development. "California knows how to lead. When we have challenges, we step up to meet them. This is one of those times."

Improving broadband access has been a priority of the California Economic Summit, which partners with CETF, the Regional Broadband Consortia and the members of the Summit’s Elevate Rural Initiative.

At the 2019 Economic Summit in Fresno, Governor Newsom underscored the importance of the issue when it was announced he would convene stakeholders, the private sector, education institutions, and government agencies with a goal of developing an inclusive “Broadband for All” plan for the state.

“California Forward has prepared both a plan and a coalition. We are ready to spring into action alongside the Newsom Administration and legislative champions such as Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Marc Levine who spoke to the urgency of the task on Wednesday,” said CA Fwd CEO Micah Weinberg.

In a time when the societal disruptions from the coronavirus are causing people to rely even more heavily on broadband for tele-education, tele-health and e-commerce, it is unmasking these fault lines in our society. 

As California Forward Senior Fellow and CEO Emeritus Jim Mayer stated, we work at the intersection of "preparation and opportunity."

That’s where we are today.

The Governor’s Broadband for All proposal is expected to be released later this month.