The then and now of California broadband

Photo by Sinart Creative via Shutterstock

OPINION – Throughout the last several years, the broadband industry has worked tirelessly to ensure that Californians are better connected than ever before. In a report issued this month from the Legislative Analyst Office, that completely connecting all Californians could very well be put in jeopardy.

In the report, the LAO suggests that in response to a severe budget deficit, state officials should consider drastic cuts to the state’s Broadband Infrastructure Spending Plan which would take more than $1 billion out of critical projects aimed at connecting the “last mile,” which is the final leg of the broadband delivery system that helps to connect unserved households to high-speed internet.

The recommendation to “consider additional spending-related delays and reductions than currently proposed,” would have devastating effects on unserved communities across the state, especially those who have gone too long without access to equitable broadband connections or are in underserved regions of the state. Considering their expressed concerns over the condition of the state budget, the LAO recommendation is warranted.

The Legislature and Governor should utilize the budget process to reconsider whether the current state plan can reasonably achieve 100% broadband availability, in light of the worsening condition of the state budget. While other states have already awarded grants and their projects are underway, California has yet to open its grant application window for last mile projects supported by the Federal Funding Account administered by the California Public Utilities Commission. California could utilize the experience from other states to modify California’s broadband infrastructure spending plan to increase the probability of closing our state’s broadband availability gap.

CalBroadband was established decades ago with the primary goal of assisting member organizations in their mission to connect customers to the world. Recently renamed, and formerly known as the California Cable & Telecommunications Association, CalBroadband is committed to helping our member companies connect their customers to the world, an experience which has undeniably changed since the organization’s inception. What used to be a singular focus on delivering television packages, cable companies are now the leading providers of high-speed broadband services in California, offering these services to 97 percent of households in the state. Hence, the name change.

With nearly 80 years of combined experience in CalBroadband’s membership, we have been on the cutting edge of innovative technology with a focused attention on ensuring the number of Californians with access to broadband continues to grow as well – and the recent LAO report has us concerned about the future of broadband access in the face of a budget deficit.

Recognizing the importance of broadband and its vital role in daily life and the modern digital economy, CalBroadband and its membership stand ready to ensure that dedicated state and federal resources are focused on connecting underserved communities and help to close the digital divide.

Here in California, our members are completing expansion projects to increase the number of served households, establishing community centers to improve digital literacy and partnering with communities to navigate eligible households to affordability programs in order to improve adoption.

CalBroadband and its membership stand ready to ensure that dedicated state and federal resources are focused on connecting underserved communities and help to close the digital divide.

Part of this work is rooted in connecting municipal, state and federal broadband infrastructure programs to help connect unserved and underserved communities. For too long, rhetoric about closing the digital divide has echoed in Capitol halls and it’s crucial to heed the LAO call for reevaluating the state’s current broadband plan in order to ensure the state’s goal of 98 percent connectivity by region is achieved when all the federal broadband funding has been expended.

Innovation and creativity are the backbone of California’s existence. Modern broadband networks and next generation services have contributed to the Golden State’s efforts to become one of the leading economies in the world and to meet residents where they are. But, in order to continue making these inroads, we have to ensure the delivery of broadband is not steeped with overregulation or impeded by politics.  Working together with stakeholders and policymakers to ensure we continue moving forward is a priority of CalBroadband’s as we look to the future.

Nimble existence, adaptability and dedicated advocacy have helped ensure California is leading the way in broadband delivery, but we can always be working together to do more. With CalBroadband’s dedication and renewed mission, I’m confident California will remain on the cutting edge for decades to come.

Janus Norman is the President of CalBroadband, formerly known as the California Cable and Telecommunications Association.

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