On August 14, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to establish a state goal of 100 mbps download speeds for all Californians, citing the 2 million Californians who lack access to high-speed broadband today. This announcement is significant, as it firmly illustrates that the state of California believes the federal definition of broadband is no longer sufficient to estimate modern needs.  It is completely right in doing so. The federal definition of broadband lost its relevance long ago,  and it is both useless and harmful as a means to measure equality of access.

While the governor acknowledged that a 100 mbps download speed does not deliver speeds synonymous with fiber networks, the emphasis on high-speed access holds a lot of overlap with fiber infrastructure. Inherently, any network delivering these types of speeds requires fiber to some degree. If done right, Governor Newsom’s broadband plan could be the stepping stone towards universal fiber that all communities need to embrace to compete in the gigabit era that 21st-century economies are entering.

Any Infrastructure Plan Pushing 100 mpbs To All Californians Needs To Have Fiber at Its Core

Fiber is the universal medium of 21st-century broadband access. EFF’s engineering analysis found that fiber is vastly superior to copper, cable, and wireless last mile options in terms of upper capacity and its future-proofed characteristics. This is why China, the other advanced Asia markets, and the EU have adopted universal fiber infrastructure plans as government policy. And while the United States desperately needs to play catch up, the House of Representatives recently passed a plan that would effectively deliver a fiber connection to every American household—showing a growing awareness of the need to build the infrastructure.

As the legislature and executive branch in California begin to formulate a strategy to deliver 100 mbps download speeds to all Californians, they must avoid efforts to preserve the existence of last century’s legacy providers. There is no future in the copper infrastructure for broadband, in the long run, as major telecommunications companies such as Frontier Communications enter bankruptcy for being too copper-heavy. (And now they want to transition to fiber). Wall Street analysts are warning private investors away from telecommunications providers that aren’t investing into fiber today, and the state should follow suit for good reason. Speed-capped networks dependent on legacy infrastructure are rapidly approaching obsolescence. They will cost the state more in the long run, as compared  to simply focusing on pushing out fiber as the goal.

If the Governor’s plan results in a systemic approach to push even a single fiber-optic wire deep into unserved markets, it will be transformative for the California economy—so long as access to that wire is open for follow on users. A single fiber wire can be leveraged by future efforts to extend those fiber wires to homes and businesses, while enabling high-speed wireless services sooner as an interim step.

To give an example, look no further than the story of Dillon Beach, CA. There, 400 residents lacked high-speed access a handful of years ago. But today, they have access to 250 mbps/150 mbps wireless broadband at $50 a month. This happened because a parent who needed to get high-speed Internet to their home for their child’s schoolwork paid AT&T $12,000 to allow him to string one fiber line to his garage. The capacity from  a single wire allowed him to launch a startup ISP with off-the-shelf hardware to deliver high-speed broadband to the broader community.

This type of enabling force makes fiber a critical infrastructure to push to all communities. It is the road towards the 21st-century Internet. And EFF will work to ensure policymakers in Sacramento do not lose track of the end goal of getting everyone on equal 21st-century ready broadband connections.

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