Bridging The Digital Divide: California’s Historic Investment In Broadband Infrastructure
The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of strong, reliable internet connectivity for social distance learning, teleworking, telehealth, and other essential services. Unfortunately, disparities in access to broadband internet magnified the disadvantages faced by many low-income and rural communities. As part of California’s comprehensive economic recovery package, also known as the California Comeback Plan, the California State Assembly and Senate passed legislation signed by Governor Gavin Newsom to advance the state’s commitment to bridging the digital divide by increasing equitable, affordable access to high-speed internet service to underserved communities throughout the State.
More Californians will have broadband internet coverage through this comprehensive multi-year $6 billion investment by establishing the Middle-Mile, a state-owned open access network of high-capacity fiber lines that carry large amounts of data at high speeds over long distances between local and global internet networks. The investment will also address connecting unserved households and businesses to Last Mile projects that connect with regional networks so households can reliably connect to the web.
Under the plan, the California Department of Technology will allocate:
- $3.25 billion towards acquiring, building, maintaining, and operating a Statewide open-access Middle-Mile Network.
- $2 billion to complement the middle-mile investment to build Last-Mile infrastructure in coordination with federal and state universal service programs.
- $750 million Loan Loss Reserve Fund to assist local governments, tribes, and non-profits in securing enhanced private financing to construct and operate new public fiber networks.
California’s 2021 investments in broadband access are by far the largest of any state in the country, according to research by the Pew Charitable Trusts. In contrast to the state’s $6 billion investment, Texas is second with a $500 million investment, followed by Montana ($275 million) and Indiana ($250 million).
As of November 17th, California has taken critical steps in identifying and selecting 18 tribal communities, counties, and cities to begin creating an open-access middle-mile network to provide missing broadband infrastructure. These communities include: Alpine County; Amador County; Calaveras County; Central Coast; Coachella Valley; Colusa Area; Inyo County; Kern County; Kern/San Luis Obispo Area; Lake County Area; Los Angeles and South Los Angeles; Oakland; Orange County; Plumas Area; Riverside/San Diego Area; San Bernardino County; Siskiyou Area; and West Fresno .
For California to maintain its place as the leader in global innovation, particularly in the technology sector, it must ensure that no community falls behind. This historic broadband initiative is taking important steps to bridge the digital divide and get Californians connected.
Photo credit: California Department of Technology