Closing the Digital Divide in the Inland Empire
San Bernardino County Sun
Paul Granillo | June 14, 2017
June 1 was a good day in California. The Internet For All Now Act, a bipartisan bill that will close the digital divide in California, sailed through the state Assembly on a 67-5 vote — thanks to co-authorship from 23 Republicans and Democrats, including Inland Empire Assembly members Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella; Jay Obernolte, R-Hesperia; Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-San Bernardino; Jose Medina, R-Riverside; Sabrina Cervantes, D-Corona, and Freddie Rodriguez, D-Chino.
Bipartisan lawmaking is fairly rare in the Capitol. The reason is that the Internet For All Now Act (Assembly Bill 1665) is an economic development no-brainer. It extends an already working program with no new taxes that has funded 58 high-speed internet (“broadband”) infrastructure projects connecting over 100,000 households to the digital economy.
You might ask: Why is this necessary? The reason is California has an unacceptably large divide between those who have home high-speed internet and those who do not. The California Emerging Technology Fund reported in its August 2016 Field Poll that 30 percent of Californians do not have high-speed internet and a computing device at home and that 57 percent of low-income Californians are “under-connected” — either dependent only on a smartphone or completely offline. In addition, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a report in April 2017 documenting that 43 percent of rural households can’t get reliable broadband.
What this all means is that almost 12 million Californians are shut out from the digital economy. They cannot adequately apply for jobs, do homework, and get health and public services online.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently reported that colleges and universities now receive 94 percent of their applications online, up from 68 percent in 2007 and 49 percent in 2005. And the Pew Internet Research Center has shown that lower-income Americans continue to lag behind in technology adoption; the result, Pew reports, is that a technology gap between the rich and the poor is widening U.S. inequality.
This is of particular concern in the Inland Empire, where some cities and towns have inadequate or non-existent broadband infrastructure and where lower-income families struggle to keep up with the digital revolution. This was a huge motivation for Assembly members Garcia, Gomez Reyes and Medina to co-author AB1665, and it was a clear and compelling reason for Assembly members Obernolte, Cervantes and Rodriguez to come out in support of the bill. They know that individuals and businesses which don’t have high-speed internet are socioeconomically disadvantaged and those who have fast connections can compete in the 21st century.
The Internet For All Act is a $330 million, five-year bill that extends the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which is the only source of support for broadband unless the Legislature enacts a new fee or tax or does a General Fund budget allocation. My organization, the Inland Empire Economic Partnership — along with more than 100 other governmental and nongovernmental organizations — support this bill because we understand the CASF will soon be out of funds, yet 360,000 households still need to get connected to reliable broadband. We also understand that internet service providers will not put broadband in areas with low return on investment. This bill incentivizes those companies to serve 98 percent of the households in the state.
So thank you, Inland Assembly members Garcia, Obernolte, Gomez Reyes, Medina, Cervantes and Rodriguez for authoring and supporting the Internet For All Now Act. We hope your colleagues in the Senate follow your lead in closing the digital divide to help boost our economy and strengthen our society.
Paul C. Granillo is president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership.