California was recently reminded that rain can be very dangerous. In February, the nation’s tallest dam, the Oroville dam in northern California, became so overloaded with rain that over a 100,000 people had to evacuate their homes. Many of them ended up at the fairgrounds, a common place for rural communities to gather in times of disaster.
Many rural fairgrounds remain unconnected to broadband Internet services, which can make a dangerous situation worse. Especially during critical times, the public must be able to access resources and communicate with their loved ones through the Internet.
Now imagine: What if fairgrounds did have high-speed Internet access? It could be an untapped place for opportunity, acting as a job and economic generator for rural communities and serving as a connection to a 21st-century Internet-based economy. Making this shift and bridging the rural-urban divide in this way is just one projected benefit from the Internet for All Now Act (AB 1665).
A Legislative Solution
Even though the California Legislature pledged to help connect 98% of Californians to the Internet by 2017, the state has not been successful in rural communities. According to the 2016 Survey on Broadband Adoption in California, 16% of Californians lack access and 14% connect only through smartphones, which means that a staggering 30% lack home broadband and a computing device. Cost is reported as the biggest deterrent to access. See a map of each district’s broadband access in California: many rural areas remain underserved or unserved with broadband access. These maps find further evidence that, as the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reported in April 2017, only 47% of rural households have access to reliable broadband service.
In 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Legislature established the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to correct this digital divide. It provided grants and loans for the deployment of broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas, as well as grants to public housing and regional associations to advance broadband deployment, access, and adoption. Funded through cent increases to the public’s phone bills, the fund supported 58 projects over the last nine years. However, this is the only source of government support for broadband, and the CASF is out of money, with 6 pending projects and more in the pipeline.
The Legislature is the only entity that can replenish the CASF, which is why the Internet for All Now Act is so critical. Otherwise, we will continue having a digital divide that reinforces economic insecurity amongst rural, disabled, and low-income communities.
Nuts and bolts of the bill
Proposed legislation, AB 1665 or the Internet For All Now Act, would expand the capacity of the government to bridge this divide. The Sf-Bay Area Chapter supports this legislation’s multi-faceted strategy, which would:
- Fund infrastructure projects that provide broadband access to no less than 98% of California households by December 31, 2023.
- Establish a new Broadband Adoption Account to assist low-income Californian households in getting online.
- Require the CPUC to biennially report on CASF to the Legislature.
- Require the CPUC to identify priority unserved and underserved areas and delineate the priority areas in the biennial reports.
- Require the CPUC to consult regional consortia, stakeholders, and consumers regarding priority areas and cost-effective strategies to achieve the broadband access goal through public workshops conducted at least annually.
To learn more about the legislation, visit InternetForAllNow.org.
What You Can Do
If you’re a California resident, call your legislator today and tell them you support AB 1665. A sample script:
“Hi, I’m a resident of [county] calling to support AB 1665, the Internet for All Now Act. I urge you to support this legislation in order to bridge California’s digital divide and ensure digital access and literacy for all.”
As the CEO and President of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), Sunne Wright McPeak, said, “We call on the California Legislature to refund the California Advanced Services Fund and to pass the Internet For All Now Act to ensure digital access and literacy for all. High-speed Internet access is a 21st Century Civil Right.” It is needed more than ever.
This blog post was written by Jenna Spagnolo on behalf of the San Francisco-Bay Area Internet Society chapter.