CSAC Bulletin Article

$8 Billion Broadband Budget Ask to Help Close Digital Divide

March 18, 2021

Today, a CSAC-led coalition has formally asked Governor Newsom to invest $8 billion to make a serious, concentrated effort to close the Digital Divide. With this level of investment, California could give households, businesses, schools, and hospitals, across the state access to high-speed 100 Mbps broadband and give a giant boost to programs that would spur the adoption of internet service. View the request letter here and a related fact sheet here.

CSAC is joined in this historic budget request not only by our county partners at the Urban Counties Caucus and the Rural County Representatives of California, but by the California Forward Action Fund, the California Hospital Association, and the California Association of School Business Officials.

Closing the Digital Divide has for too long been a goal that seemed impossibly far out of reach, given our state’s rugged geography, far-flung communities, and economic inequality. But a recent report commissioned by the CPUC found that the cost of building future-proof fiber connections to every unserved building and house in the state with an investment of $6.8 billion.

The state’s one-time revenue windfall, combined with the $26 billion of new, flexible federal funding, provides a golden opportunity to pay for this truly transformative investment. Expanding broadband access is an ideal use of one-time funds. It is a one-time cost that would both improve lives in the short-term and increase the speed and size of the economic recovery, thereby producing medium- and long-term gains for all levels of government and the state’s economy as a whole.

Of the $6.8 billion investment we are requesting for access infrastructure, $2.2 billion would construct a statewide middle mile network with open access fiber and $4.6 billion would provide 100/10 Mbps fiber optics to buildings and houses currently without it. Either of these pieces—the middle mile or the last mile—are insufficient when taken alone, but together they can transform the educational, economic, and quality-of-life landscape of our state by providing these unconnected properties access to reliable broadband.

However, simply providing access cannot be the end of the state’s efforts. That is why we are requesting the infrastructure investment be paired with $1.2 billion for programs to increase adoption. These efforts could include providing devices, digital skills training, service subsidies, and language access necessary for Californians to be able to use the broadband service available to their homes and businesses. Partnering with local agencies, schools, the CPUC, and long-committed nonprofits can help ensure the success of these programs.

The funding request would complement several important bills currently pending in the Legislature, including AB 14 and SB 4, which would make important reforms to the CPUC’s broadband infrastructure subsidy program and authorize a $1 billion revenue bond, AB 34, which would place a broadband bond on the November 2022 ballot, and SB 28, which would hold providers accountable for their service obligations.

CSAC’s advocacy on broadband, which the Board of Directors identified as a top priority for 2021, is guided by our Broadband Working Group, co-chaired by Riverside Supervisor Chuck Washington, Monterey Supervisor Luis Alejo, and Mono Supervisor John Peters. The group has been meeting every two weeks to work through budget and legislative proposals.

As we move through the state budget process, counties and our coalition partners will be advocating this broadband funding and the accelerated adoption of AB 14 and SB 4 as an important piece of closing the Digital Divide, as well as the adoption of the recently adopted Broadband for All Action Plan. Counties are encouraged to individually support this ask and urge their legislative delegations to push for its approval.

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