Access to the internet has become a critical part of everyday life, something many Californians take for granted. But usable broadband service has been unavailable for many. Over 670,000 Californians do not have access to a high-speed broadband connection, including 30% of rural households and 24% of homes located on tribal lands. My district is one of those. That’s why my caucus and I have long supported efforts to close the digital divide statewide.
I’m happy to report that SB 156, to fund a statewide broadband network included in the 2021-22 budget, received final legislative approval on July 15th. Total funding for the project includes $3.25 Billion to establish a statewide open-access middle-mile network (broadband main line) and $1.072 billion to fund the last-mile connections (local connectivity) for unserved communities. Though I’d prefer more funding for last-mile connections, the emphasis will be on locations where those connections can be enabled with sufficient capacity at affordable rates. It’s a big step in the right direction.
As we all know here locally, service in some areas can be very spotty. This lack of connectivity can make the difference when it comes to working, getting an education, seeing a doctor or simply staying connected with family and friends. SB 156 prioritizes locations that include schools, community colleges, healthcare institutions, libraries and other government facilities. Among its many benefits, it will improve education opportunities for many rural students currently deprived of opportunities readily available elsewhere.
Due to a unique combination of circumstances, including the one-time availability of federal funding, we will now be able to expand broadband infrastructure throughout California. SB 156 passed the Senate and Assembly, without opposition, and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. There is more work to be done in this area, but at least we are about to close the digital divide that has impacted millions of Californians.