It’s hard to believe that when Governor Newsom identifies a total of $7 billion for California’s legislature to spend on broadband access—coming from a mix of state surplus dollars and federal rescue money to invest in broadband infrastructure—that the legislature would do nothing.

It is hard to believe that, when handed an amount that would finance giving every single Californian a fiber connection to the Internet over the next five years; would allow the state to address an urgent broadband crisis worsened by the pandemic; and gives us a way to start ending the digital divide now, that the legislature would rather waste time we can’t afford to think it over.

But that is exactly what California’s legislature has proposed this week. Can you believe it?



Tucked away on page 12 of this 153-page budget document from the legislature this week is the following plan for Governor Newsom’s proposal to help connect every Californian to 21st-century access:

Broadband. Appropriates $7 billion over a multi-year period for broadband infrastructure and improved access to broadband services throughout the state. Details will continue to be worked out through three party negotiations. Administrative flexibilities will enable the appropriated funds to be accelerated to ensure they are available as needed to fund the expansion and improvements.

What this says is that the legislature wants to approve $7 billion for broadband infrastructure but does not want to authorize the governor to carry out his proposal any time soon.

There’s no excuse for this. Lawmakers have been given a lot of detail on this proposal, and ask anyone in the public and they would say we need action right now. This cannot be what passes in Sacramento next week as part of establishing California’s budget. At the very least, the legislature needs to give the Governor the clear authority to begin the planning process of deploying public fiber infrastructure to all Californians. This is a long process, which requires feasibility studies, environmental assessments, contracting with construction crews, and setting up purchases of materials. All of this takes months of time to process before any construction can even start and delaying even this first basic step pushes back the date we end the digital divide in California.

Wasting Time Risks Federal Money and Will Perpetuate the Digital Divide

Federal rescue dollars must be spent quickly, or they will be rescinded back to the federal government. Those are explicit rules from Congress and the Biden Administration as part of the rescue funds that were issued these last few months. Right now, there is a global rush for fiber broadband deployment that is putting a lot of pressure on manufacturers and workforce that build fiber-optic wires. In other words, more and more of the world is catching on to what EFF stated years ago, which is 21st century broadband access is built on fiber optics. Each day California sits out deploying this infrastructure puts us further behind the queue in demand and further delays actual construction.

Therefore, if Sacramento does not immediately authorize at least the planning phase of building out a statewide middle mile open-access fiber network—along with empowering local governments, non-profits, and cooperatives to draft their own fiber plans to deploy last mile connectivity—then we risk losing that valuable federal money. The state has a real opportunity, but only if it acts now, not months from now. California even has a chance to jump the line ahead of the rest of the country as Congress continues to debate about its own broadband infrastructure plan.

For the state that has made famous the little girls doing homework in fast-food parking lots because they lacked affordable robust internet access at home, it is irresponsible to look at $7 billion and not start the process to solve the problem. That’s exactly what will happen if the California legislature doesn’t hear from you.

Call your Assemblymember and Senator now to demand they approve Governor Newsom’s broadband plan next week to fix the digital divide now. This is the time to act on ending the digital divide, not continue talking about it.



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