By Russell Steele ( Submitted to The Union for Publication 18 December 2017.)
Update: Article was published on 9 Jan 2018: https://www.theunion.com/opinion/columns/russell-steele-broadband-as-essential-infrastructure/
According to a recent Brookings Institute Metro Policy Paper in less than two decades broadband access has become one of the foundations of the American Economy, joining clean water, waste management, and energy as essential infrastructure.
In California, the General Planning process provides guidance on how communities should plan for and implement essential infrastructure. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research published General Planning Guidance, August 2017, outlining critical planning elements for Land Use, Housing, Circulation, and Conservation, with recommended elements for Safety, Air Quality, and Environmental Justice.
The guideline also recommends community planning focus on four broad issues: Climate Change, Economics, Healthy Communities, and Equitable Opportunities. Reading through the instructions, I could not find any mention of broadband which has a significant relationship to climate change, economics, community health and equitable opportunities.
According to a California Emerging Technology Fund report, broadband is a green strategy. Whereas, access to broadband reduces vehicle miles traveled, lowers need for office-space construction conserving energy, and calms circulation congestion while increasing online shopping, all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 billion tons over ten years, yet these advantages are not addressed in the General Planning Guidelines.
Broadband is only referenced in the Governor’s General Planning Guidelines in three places:
Chapter 4, Required Elements, Page 81, broadband described as a “relevant utility”.
Chapter 4, Page 82 Broadband:
“Both state and federal governments are implementing various funding programs that serve the goal of expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas. Within California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) manages the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which invests hundreds of millions of dollars annually in broadband deployment. The state also created the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), which was designed to be a public-purpose venture capital fund.”
“Dig once policies can substantially reduce costs for providing broadband service to communities….”
Chapter 6, page 211:
“Also, general plan policies may improve access to health services through integrated public transportation and provisions for access to broadband, allowing for telemedicine capacity.”
None of these references address the issue of greenhouse gas reductions or the economic impacts on communities. Cities that have broadband services which match or exceeds 25 megabits down and 3 megabits up, can take advantage of telecommuting, teleconferencing, online education, eGovernment engagement, and reduced energy consumption, and reduce vehicle miles traveled, as VMT is the most significant contributor to California Greenhouse Gases.
In a recent Nevada County General Plan Update (2014) planners included broadband in the Land Use Element after some citizen prodding.
Policy 1.7.18 Encourage and support a sustainable and technologically current high-speed broadband transmission system that reliably connects Nevada County businesses and residences to national networks as a means to reduce transportation impacts, improve air quality, enhance citizens’ quality of life, and promote economic development
Program 1.7.1 The County will develop site standards requiring new residential and commercial development projects to include the broadband infrastructure components and adequate bandwith (sic) speeds necessary to support current communication technologies.
Counties, Cities, and Villages should incorporate broadband in all their General Planning documents, taking advantage of the reduction in vehicle miles travel, energy reduction and reduction in environmental impacts when broadband becomes essential infrastructure. Equally important is the inclusion of broadband in the economic element, as it is a powerful rural economic development tool. Communities with high-speed Internet grow faster than those with just limited broadband access, according to studies. Nevada County has started the process; now they need to declare broadband as essential infrastructure and plan accordingly.
Russell Steele, former Nevada County resident currently lives in Lincoln Hills CA where he blogs on rural broadband issues at http://ruraleconomytechnology.com