The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed, said Economist writer William Gibson. The same idea applies to broadband connectivity in California, and the state’s latest action plan aims to literally bring all citizens up to speed.
On December 30, the California State Broadband Council (CSBC) released its “Broadband Action Plan” in response to executive order N-73-20 to provide broadband access to all Californians at home, schools, libraries, and businesses.
“Californians’ ability to access and use broadband became the difference between being able to fully engage in like, and being cut off,” said the CSBC in a letter replying to California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Though, the plan has not come without facing several challenges on top of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
One challenge is availability, with regards to speed and reliability. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defined broadband internet as 200 kbps in 1996, which is only fast enough to send and receive email. The FCC’s last updated definition of broadband increased to a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, which was intended for people engaging in light to moderate internet use. Since then, Californians’ need for high-performance internet has drastically increased.
Another challenge is affordability—at the end of the day, price matters. The CSBC says that it must “account for all of the components in its price tag,” which includes taxes, surcharges, rental equipment charges, service costs, and the cost of devices for getting online. Broadband in the United States is expensive relative to the cost in other countries. The action plan notes how “for a family with a tight budget, it is easy to see how paying for food, electricity, rent, and other necessities would take precedence over purchasing internet services.”
The action plan has three focal points: providing high-performance broadband at homes, schools, libraries and business; giving all Californians affordable access to broadband and devices necessary to connect to the internet; and providing all Californians access to training and support to “enable digital inclusion.”
The council notes that in order to achieve these goals, they must pull from all the state’s available tools, including policy, programs, funding, partnerships, and collaborations with other governments.
According to the action plan, the state needs to further update and modernize their state broadband definition, which will optimize its financial toolkit, simplify deployment, leverage existing assets, and set reliability standards for critical infrastructure. The state must also identify opportunities with government and philanthropic partners to maximize their finances for new infrastructure.
The Council believes that it can make significant progress to help Californians enroll in existing affordable internet programs. For starters, they must work toward developing a framework to define essential broadband service affordability standards and thoroughly evaluate them relative to other essential service costs. Promoting existing state contractual vehicles with internet providers can help support cost savings.
The CSBC will continuously update the plan on an annual—or more frequent—basis through 2025 as directed by Governor Newsom, as the plan will be a live, iterative document. Lead organizations will regularly report their ongoing progress and to the CSBC, and the council will meet with these agencies quarterly to determine the next steps. The council also welcomes and appreciates public input during the plan’s preparation.