Connecting California: Will New Broadband Funding Help Narrow the Digital Divide?

Two bills were passed this month that will provide millions in broadband development for rural and low-income communities.

by / October 16, 2013

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills on Oct. 3 that will provide additional funding to broadband projects in rural and low-income areas of the state. Senate Bill (SB) 740 will funnel increased funding to service providers that can provide access in areas that have either slow or no Internet access. Assembly Bill (AB) 1299 allocates money to encourage broadband development in housing projects and other low-income areas.

Senator Alex Padilla, author of SB 740, issued a statement upon passage of his bill, saying it was a positive step toward narrowing the state’s digital divide. The bill will provide $90 million for broadband projects, taken from telecom ratepayer surcharges between 2015 and 2020. The bill will also create an avenue for funding service providers by modifying eligibility requirements outlined in the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to allow the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to award funding to telecom companies.

SB 740 was initially opposed by the California Cable & Telecommunications Association (CCTA) because the bill would have allowed government-subsidized companies to compete with existing telecom providers. Padilla worked with the CCTA and modified the bill so that funding will now only be available to companies serving areas where service is not available or very slow. The funding was also reduced from an original figure of $125 million. After these changes, the CCTA issued a letter removing their opposition to the bill, taking a neutral stance.

AB 1299 will allow up to $25 million in CASF grants to be issued for the development of broadband in low-income areas. “As the 21st century economy moves online, our society is increasingly defined by those who have access to the technology and services that define modern life, and those who don’t,” said Assembly member Steven Bradford, who introduced AB 1299. “The future of our economy rests on broadband and other technology infrastructure. We cannot let certain unserved and underserved communities fall behind the rest when it comes to this critical resource. I am pleased that the Governor understands the value of helping our citizens climb out of the digital shadows.”