Under pending legislation, California will create a State Digital Equity Plan to help close the Digital Divide and allow it to participate in a massive federal spending program to create affordable and accessible broadband connectivity. Developed in collaboration with the California Public Utilities Commission, the plan will be administered by the California Department of Technology and include the creation of a new California Connect Corps whose mission will be to promote digital inclusion and literacy through community outreach.
President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) last year to include $65 billion for broadband expansion across the United States. To receive funding, states must create a plan that meets federal requirements.
Assembly Bill 2750 by Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), which recently passed the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications by a vote of 13 to 0, requires the plan to be completed by January 1, 2024, and includes the following, according to a committee analysis:
- Requires CDT to work with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Broadband Council to develop a state digital equity plan by January 1, 2024.
- Requires CDT to obtain all available federal funding for the purposes of developing and implementing the equity plan.
- Requires the state digital equity plan to include the following contents:
- The identification of barriers to digital equity faced by underserved demographic groups in California.
- Measurable objectives for documenting and promoting digital equity among covered populations located in the state.
- An assessment of how the objectives described will impact essential services, economic, educational, health, civic, and social outcomes.
- A description of how CDT plans to collaborate with key specified stakeholders.
- A list of organizations with which the department collaborated in developing and implementing the state digital equity plan.
- The creation of a California Connect Corps to promote digital inclusion and literacy through community outreach to underserved populations. This bill specifies that members of the California Connect Corps will receive paid compensation, free IT career training, and supportive services during their term of service.
While the legislation currently has no opposition, committee staff have raised concerns about whether CDT is the appropriate agency to oversee the administration of a digital equity program, citing limited staff resources and experience, and potential conflicts with federal grant requirements.
“This bill would designate CDT as the primary agency responsible for administering digital equity plans and programs. However, it is unclear whether CDT would be able to obtain certain federal funds for digital equity program administration if it creates the state digital equity plan,” says the bill’s most recent committee analysis. “The IIJA prohibits the United States Department of Commerce from awarding digital equity competitive grants to the state-level entity that administers the digital equity plan and capacity grant.”