California begins race to build a statewide, 10,000-mile broadband network
This month, construction began in rural San Diego County for the first section of a 10,000-mile broadband network intended to deliver high-speed internet to Californians. The ambitious $3.8 billion project is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to provide essential online services like emergency information, telehealth, employment, and educational opportunities to residents.
The governor described the network as a landmark in equitable online access for rural and low-income Californians.
“California is now one step closer to making the digital divide a thing of the past,” Newsom said in a statement. “We’re starting construction today to get affordable high-speed internet in every California home because livelihoods depend on access to a reliable and fast internet connection. This is about ensuring that all Californians, no matter the zip code they call home, can be part of the Golden State’s thriving and diverse economy.”
To commemorate the effort, state leadership gathered on Oct. 13 along State Route 67 near the city of Poway for a groundbreaking ceremony. Officials laid the first pieces of fiber for a section that will run from Lakeside to Ramona. California’s Transportation Agency Secretary Toks Omishakin, Government Operations Secretary Amy Tong, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and leadership from Newsom’s Administration were in attendance.
“We are thrilled to see construction begin on the middle-mile network,” Tong said. “Too many rural and urban areas lack adequate broadband infrastructure, forcing residents to attempt to connect via mobile hotspots and unreliable satellite service…”
In San Diego, the California Department of Technology (CDT) estimates there are more than 200,000 people without broadband service. Across the state, only one in five Californians have access to high-speed broadband internet. That number is even lower in rural areas, where only one in 10 Californians have access. Complicating matters, a study by the nonprofit Education Superhighway shows that 1.55 million California families — 63 percent of the state — can’t afford to pay for the service.
The state promotes high-speed internet as a critical element for economic growth since it enables work-from-home careers, which can save them money on transportation costs. It also lets people educate themselves online, which can help secure higher-paying jobs. Further, with the rise of telehealth, medical care is more accessible, again saving them time and money.
California and the federal government have long subsidized broadband efforts because common providers — like Comcast, AT&T, and others — lack an economic incentive to serve small rural communities where internet subscribers are few, and infrastructure installation and maintenance costs are vast.
The new network, officially called the Middle Mile Broadband Network, refers to a broadband network’s central fibers supplying connectivity at high volumes and over long distances. “Last-mile” broadband connects directly to homes and businesses.
If size and scope are to be considered, the Middle Mile Broadband Network is expected to be the nation’s most extensive and costly broadband network. The middle-mile network owes its funding to Senate Bill 156 that in 2021 allocated $6 billion over three years for state middle-mile broadband infrastructure and last-mile projects to communities.
Yet the governor and California legislators hope to draw on federal funding to secure as much financial support as possible via national COVID-19 recovery initiatives like the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
To lock in this critical funding, Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said the California Department of Transportation’s 12 districts are working quickly to build the network on federal dollars. The faster teams can complete their work, the quicker they can request federal reimbursement.
More than a year of planning led to the construction of this first segment of the Middle Mile Network. The state expects the work to be complete by the end of 2026.