California's Central Valley Economy Hurt by Broadband Gaps

The state, local governments and colleges are partnering to identify exactly where the gaps exist.

by / January 28, 2015

The California San Joaquin Valley contributes billions of dollars to the nation’s agricultural economy each year, and with drought threatening the region, digital technology is becoming more important to farmers than ever. New robots, sensors and devices could optimize farming efficiency and help sustain growing populations, but not without better infrastructure.

Wireless broadband is unavailable in parts of the region, according to reports. But researchers need specific data to show where gaps in wireless Internet connectivity exist. That’s why the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is partnering with local government and colleges.

On Jan. 26, the CPUC met with local college leaders to plan the first phase of an ongoing effort to understand and improve wireless connectivity in the region. City of Fresno CIO Carolyn Hogg, who also sits on the San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium, explained that the colleges will connect their students with a mobile app called CalSPEED, which users can utilize around the region to report wireless Internet connectivity based on geographic location. Over time, the data will help the state understand the degree of broadband need, and with granular geographic specificity that goes beyond today’s district mapping (PDF).

A look at CPUC’s mobile broadband availability leads an observer to believe there’s little work left to be done in the San Joaquin Valley, but that’s not the case, said Robert Tse, community planning and development specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Not only in San Joaquin Valley but all over the state, one of the common things that members of the public will come and complain about is the lack of broadband or poor broadband service in their area,” he said.

This effort will quantify those complaints and help lay an important foundation for other regional projects, like the Apps for Ag hackathon that will be held in Coalinga, Calif., between Feb. 20 and 22. The best agricultural apps won’t mean a thing if they can’t connect online.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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