RCRC Commentary: Empower Local Communities to Close the Digital Divide

Greg Norton President and CEO of Rural County Representatives of California.

The deployment of broadband infrastructure supporting speed-of-commerce connectivity is among the most critical missing components needed to drive economic development in California’s rural communities. Broadband access is essential to connecting rural communities to the 21st century economy. Yet the barriers to deploying infrastructure continue to inhibit access in some of California’s most disadvantaged communities in both rural and urban areas.

The Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) represents 36 of California’s 58 counties, covering approximately 56 percent of the state’s land mass. It is estimated that merely 47 percent of California’s rural households within this population area have access to high-speed broadband.

I recently had the opportunity to speak about this crisis on a panel before the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) titled “The Imperative of Digital Inclusion.” In their 2016-17 Annual Report, CETF identified internet access as a “21st Century Civil Right,” and the internet is now firmly established as an operational epicenter for business, government, education, information, and basic services.

Access to broadband provides multiple economic and social benefits to rural residents by allowing access to vital government services and resources. Broadband contributes to job creation, economic growth and business investment improves access to critical healthcare services, and expands access to educational resources and opportunities. Broadband access for farmers and ranchers would allow for improved stewardship of our natural resources through the use of technology to monitor and measure water and soil conditions and usage.

Local governments have joined forces in advocating for the acceleration of broadband deployment in California’s rural communities, and have outlined a number of key provisions. First, the technology deployed must be an appropriate fit for the area — high-speed fiber connections are imperative. Second, we must look to rural electrification as a model, and fund local municipalities to develop the infrastructure, and provide the services. Lastly, local governments should be empowered to step up as lead partners with the federal government to formulate and execute upon strategies that achieve broad-based access to high-speed services.

When high-speed connectivity is unavailable, too slow, or too expensive, it has a significant impact on the economic success and quality of life in these communities. As a result of the digital divide, rural communities are suffering, and struggle to tap basic resources including educational opportunities, medical care, economic and trade opportunities, and vital government services, including public safety.

We’re aware of the challenges involved in deploying adequate capacity across the broadband infrastructure in California’s rural communities. Rugged terrain, remote locations, and sparse populations are all factors that lead to increased deployment and maintenance costs. However, these challenges must be addressed in order to provide this fundamental socio-economic tool and resource to the residents within these communities. While technological advances such as 5G are beneficial to the overall industry, this type of innovation only serves to create a greater chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Priority should be focused on an equitable deployment of appropriate level services throughout the state, not on the next big thing for the fortunate few.

Community-driven broadband partnerships offer a solution. We can quickly resolve this problem by including local communities in the process of choosing the appropriate means to deliver the requisite broadband to ensure quality of life, business growth, and household capital formation. In partnership with the federal government, communities can choose the approach to delivering broadband best suited to their specific needs. Options could include innovative public-private partnerships, other government financing, or through the enforced requirement of leveraging infrastructure investments made with federal dollars by incumbent providers. The Federal Communications Commission has deployed and earmarked enormous amounts of capital to closing the urban-rural divide that exists with access to broadband. Despite these massive influxes of capital, too many rural communities remain without access.

It is imperative that ubiquitous middle-mile fiber optic cable technology is provided at the speed of commerce to allow small to medium-sized businesses to compete in the digital global marketplace, and attract economic development opportunities to California’s rural communities. Although we have made advancements in expanding broadband, there is more to do to ensure that universal access to broadband services is realized for all rural residents. Now is the time — we must allow local communities to develop high-speed solutions that fit their rural communities’ broadband infrastructure needs. Broadband is fundamentally necessary to a community’s economic health, quality of life, and opportunity at prosperity.

The source is HERE.

Comment:

The Federal funding to improve rural access to broadband is the Connect America II Fund, which is a 10-year program.  The telco 5G build-out is expected to take at least a decade. If the LEO satellite programs from SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, LeoSat, and Telesat are successful, space-based broadband will become available in 2021 which is only two years away. By 2024 there will be multiple broadband satellite companies competing for rural communities business. These companies are planning to provide 4G and 5G backhaul services at a lower cost than fiber, which has to deal with “rugged terrain, remote locations, and sparse populations.”  One of the obstacles to satellite broadband is the current CPUC and CETF policies which discriminate against satellite services. These are policies that were put in place due to the low speeds, long latency and high cost of geo-satellite broadband services.  LEO satellites latency is on par with cable networks and shared fiber services, and current speeds are equal to cable internet and on long distances exceed fiber speeds.  These policies need to be revisited and adjusted to match future broadband services. More in this issue in future posts.

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CPUC to Hold Public Workshop on Expanding Access to Broadband

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), as part of its implementation of The Internet for All Now Act, will hold a workshop to consult with local governments, broadband providers, consumers, and other stakeholders on cost-effective strategies for expanding broadband access in unserved areas of the state. The CPUC welcomes attendance at this public workshop.

WHAT: Workshop on Expanding Access to Broadband
WHEN: Monday, April 29, 2019, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
WHERE:
• . California Lottery Headquarters, 700 North 10th Street, Sacramento, CA, 95811
• . Also available via webcast at www.adminmonitor.com/ca/cpuc
•    Remote participants may email questions during the workshop to:
CASF_Application_Questions@cpuc.ca.gov

Full Press Release is HERE:

 

California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Workshop

CALIFORNIA ADVANCED SERVICES FUND PUBLIC WORKSHOP – SACRAMENTO, CA – APRIL 29, 2019

Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves and staff from the California Public Utilities Commission invite you to a public workshop in Sacramento on April 29, 2019. This workshop is a chance for the Commission to consult with regional consortia,  stakeholders, local governments, the federal government, existing facility-based broadband providers, and consumers regarding unserved areas of the state and cost-effective strategies for expanding access to broadband. 

  

Preliminary details of the workshop are included in the attached agenda and information sheet. Please direct questions to
Caleb Jones ((415) 703-1628/caleb.jones@cpuc.ca.gov ) or Phil Enis ((415) 703-4112/phillip.enis@cpuc.ca.gov).
 

Fact Sheet

Reports and Audits

Data, Maps & Tools

Program Description and Application Instructions

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is allocated to four CASF accounts and a pilot program:

Funding

The CASF is funded by a surcharge rate on revenues collected by telecommunications carriers from end-users for intrastate telecommunications services.

Contact Information

Questions about this program should be directed to:

  • Adoption, Consortia and Public Housing Accounts – Selena Huang (415) 703-5247 xsh@cpuc.ca.gov
  • Infrastructure Account and Line Extension Program – Tom Glegola (415) 703-2438 tjg@cpuc.ca.gov

CETF Newsletter

Broadband Adoption Trends Are Improving But We Need Your Help
As a someone who cares about broadband issues in California, we thought you would be interested in this important news:   More Californians are getting connected to the Internet at home using devices that will make a real difference in improving their access to educational, career and healthcare opportunities.

The 2019 Statewide Survey on Broadband Adoption, which CETF conducted in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, finds 88% of the California households have high-speed Internet access at home through either a computing device or a smartphone.

In the last two years, the proportion of Californians connecting to the Internet through a home computing device—defined as a desktop, laptop or tablet computer—has increased from 69% to 78%.  This is a positive development given that households with only smartphone access are considered “underconnected” because they are at a disadvantage in optimizing the use of technology for certain functions, such as doing schoolwork, applying for a job, or taking online classes to expand workforce skills.

Check out news coverage of the survey in Techwire.

Continue Reading HERE.

 

 

If Broadband is Essential Infrastructure it Should be in the General Plan

In California, the General Plan is a document providing a long-range plan for a city’s and county’s physical development. Local jurisdictions have freedom as to what their general plans include, however, there are specific requirements under California state law that each general plan must meet; failure to do so could result in suspension of future development.

Each general plan must include the vision, goals, and objectives of the city or county in terms of planning and development within eight different “elements” defined by the state as: land use, housing, circulation, conservation, noise, safety, open space, and environmental justice which was added as an official element in 2016.

To assist cities and counties to develop and refine their planning document the Governor’s Office and Planning Research published some guidelines in August of 2017.  These charts capture the essence of that guidance.

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.09.54

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.10

Please note that broadband is not mentioned in either graphic, yet broadband has a significant relationship to land use, circulation, housing, conservation, and social justice.

Broadband is mention in the General Planning Guidelines three places:

Chapter 4, Required Elements, Page 81, broadband 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. A new provider can run ber through leased conduit space at a fraction of the costs, incentivizing more private actors to deploy or reducing costs to the city if self-provisioning broadband services. For example, if conduit construction was promoted along ongoing civil work projects, fiber deployment costs drop by $30,000- $100,000 per mile. On average, 60 to 90 percent of network deployment costs come from civil works as opposed to equipment and maintenance.

Chapter 6, page 211:

In addition, general plan policies may improve access to health services through integrated public transportation and provisions for access to broadband, allowing for telemedicine capacity. 

If California planners were serious about the benefits of every home and businesses having broadband access, they would provide General Planning Guidance beyond dig once.

According to a recent Brookings Metro Policy Paper in less than two decades broadband access has become one of the foundations of the American Economy, joining water, sewer, power, transportation, and energy as essential infrastructure.

If broadband is essential infrastructure, and a “relevant utility”, it should be included in the general planning requirements:

Land Use:  Reduce the cost of installing fixed and mobile wireless antennas, including G5 mini towers.  See Nevada County Land Use, Communications for WiFi example.

Circulation: Use of broadband reduces the need to travel, enables work from home, promoter online shopping all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to a California, Emerging Technology Funds report Broadband as Green Strategy, access to broadband reduces vehicle miles traveled, office-space construction, energy use, while increasing online shopping, all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 billion tons over ten years,

Housing:  All new development should include broadband networks, especially in multi-family housing in low-income neighborhoods, where adoption is hindered by high-cost access.

Conservation:  Broadband reduces the consumption of natural resources. See Circulation.

Environmental Justice: Broadband internet improves access to health care, education, and employment. Broadband opens the doors to entrepreneurship by individual and small groups, especially in rural communities creating community wealth.

Also missing from the Governor’s Office and Planning Research planning guidelines issued in August 2017 are topics and elements related to economic development. An issue worthy of a future post. 

Your thoughts? Should Broadband be given more attention in General Planning?

CETF: Let’s Talk Broadband! Newsletter

The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) Newsletter can be downloaded HERE.

The California Census Complete County Committee is working to ensure that all Californians are prepared for the first-ever online-only national Census in 2020. The Committee seeks Requests For Proposals from large foundations and community-based organizations (CBOs) with the administrative capacity and experience to help count the hardest-to-reach Californians. Learn about California Complete Census CBO Grant Opportunities. The deadline is January 31st.

Highlight added.  I just received the Newsletter on Jan 24 and the Deadline is Jan 31.

There is more in the Newsletter, I highlighted this section to draw attention to the short suspense date for Grant Opportunities.

 

CETF: Let’s Talk Broadband!

 

Welcome to the Fall 2018 edition of Let’s Talk Broadband! Did you know that an estimated 13 million Californians are unconnected or underconnected to the Internet at home? As school gets into full swing, please read our story of Oakland High School sophomore Jesus Toscano. Jesus’s family learned about discount Internet service through Tech Exchange of Oakland, a partner of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF). Jesus is now in a college prep program at Oakland High School with dreams of working at Pixar. Jesus’s success story can be replicated throughout California.

Many organizations and civic leaders are stepping up as Digital Champions and we have lots of good news to report: See the Attached PDF