Closing the Digital Divide in the Imperial Valley

Imperial Valley Press

Timothy E. Kelley | May 18, 2017

April 26 was an unusual day in California. The Internet For All Now Act, a bipartisan bill that will close the Digital Divide in California, sailed through its first committee hearing with a 12-0 vote — thanks to Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia of the Imperial Valley.

Bill support from 22 Republicans and Democrats is fairly rare in the Capitol. The reason is that the Internet For All Now Act (AB 1665) makes economic sense. It extends an already working program that has funded 58 high-speed (broadband) Internet infrastructure projects connecting over 100,000 households to the digital economy.

You might ask: Why do we need this bill?

The reason is the Digital Divide in California is too large. 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 or 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 49 percent in 2005. And the Pew Internet Research Center has shown that lower income and rural Americans continue to lag behind in technology adoption; the result is that a technology gap between rich and poor and urban and rural is widening US inequality.

This is of particular concern in the Imperial Valley, where some cities and towns have inadequate or non-existent broadband infrastructure and where lower income families struggle to keep up with the digital technology revolution.

This was the main reason Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia authored AB 1665. In his district — which comprises Blythe, Brawley, Bermuda Dunes, Calexico, Calipatria, Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, El Centro, Holtville, Imperial, Indio, Mecca, Oasis, North Shore, Salton Sea, Thermal, Thousand Palms, Westmorland, Seeley, Heber, Ocotillo, Heber and Winterhaven — 8 percent of the households can’t get high-speed Internet and 23 percent are low income. Assemblymember Garcia, who is from Coachella, knows firsthand 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, 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 Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation — along with more than 80 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 sparsely populated areas with low return on investment. This bill incentivizes those companies to serve 98 percent of the households in the state.

So thank you Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia for authoring and advocating for the Internet For All Now Act. Closing the Digital Divide will strengthen the economic fabric of our home, the Imperial Valley.

Timothy E. Kelley is president and CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation.

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Assemblywoman Announces Broadband Deal for Rural Communities

Daily Democrat

Daily Democrat Staff | April 28, 2017

SACRAMENTO >> An agreement that could expand braodband access and digital literacy to communities deprived of reliable internet connections may have been achieved.

According to a statement from Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, AB 1665 has been passed out of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee this week with a 12- 0 vote.

“This bill memorializes the successful negotiation of a $330 million package to expand broadband access and digital literacy to communities deprived of a reliable internet connection,” stated Aguiar-Curry who sponsored the legislation with Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, and Brian Dahle, R-Biebers.

Past efforts to increase funding to close the connectivity gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” known as the “Digital Divide,” were intensely opposed by the largest telecommunications companies. AB 1665 is the product of bipartisan legislative leadership. After a three-year stalemate, this bill represents a cooperative effort between legislators and representatives from the telecommunications industry to invest in broadband access and rural development.

“People don’t start businesses in areas where they can’t even send an email,” said Aguiar-Curry. “When I was the nayor of Winters, I watched families get their first email address. I saw farmworkers finally have a platform to talk to their kids’ teachers despite their work hours. I know first-hand how internet access can transform a community. AB 1665 will transform communities across California.”

The California Advanced Services Fund is a state program aimed at closing the Digital Divide. The CASF does not depend upon General Fund dollars, but instead is funded by a small surcharge on in-state phone bills spread out over a 5-year period.

The current goal of this program is to incentivize the expansion of broadband infrastructure to 98 percent of California households. However, Aguiar-Curry and her partners successfully negotiated to expand this goal to 98 percent of households in every geographic region of the state, assuring that rural California would be served as well, instead of the target being satisfied in urban areas alone.

Testifying in support of AB 1665, Assemblymember Dahle said, “Using this regional approach to provide internet to historically unserved and underserved communities, we will be able to help our schools, students, and small businesses, and effectively connect rural constituencies to the rest of the world. This bill will provide services to rural areas of the state that have long been forgotten, or seen as too difficult and remote to provide service.”

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Aguiar-Curry Strikes $330 Million Deal to Bring Broadband and Digital Literacy to Rural Communities

Lake County News | April 28, 2017

A bill to expand the reach of broadband services across rural California took a key step forward this week.

AB 1665, joint-authored by several bipartisan members of the Assembly including Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) and Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), passed out of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee this week with a 12-0 vote.

This bill memorializes the successful negotiation of a $330 million package to expand broadband access and digital literacy to communities deprived of a reliable Internet connection.

Past efforts to increase funding to close the connectivity gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” known as the “Digital Divide,” were intensely opposed by the largest telecommunications companies.

AB 1665 is the product of bipartisan legislative leadership. After a three-year stalemate, this bill represents a cooperative effort between legislators and representatives from the telecommunications industry to invest in broadband access and rural development.

“People don’t start businesses in areas where they can’t even send an email,” said Aguiar-Curry, whose district includes Lake County. “When I was the mayor of Winters, I watched families get their first email address. I saw farmworkers finally have a platform to talk to their kids’ teachers despite their work hours. I know first-hand how Internet access can transform a community. AB 1665 will transform communities across California.”

The California Advanced Services Fund, or CASF, is a state program aimed at closing the Digital Divide.

The CASF does not depend upon general fund dollars, but instead is funded by a small surcharge on in-state phone bills spread out over a five-year period.

The current goal of this program is to incentivize the expansion of broadband infrastructure to 98% of California households.

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Charter Offers High-Speed Internet

Los Angeles Wave, April 14, 2017

BOYLE HEIGHTSIn an effort to bridge the digital divide, Charter Communications introduced a new stand-alone low-cost, high-speed broadband service, Spectrum Internet Assist at a special ceremony at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School.

Spectrum Internet Assist offers eligible customers low-cost broadband speeds up to 30 megabytes per second, which meets and even exceeds the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of “high-speed.” Spectrum Internet Assist includes standard features like email boxes, internet security software and a modem at no additional charge.

Spectrum Internet Assist is now available throughout Charter’s legacy service area, and will continue to be rolled out market by market with a goal of covering the remaining Charter footprint by mid-year.

“We’re excited to bring a whole new world of digital access and opportunity to low income families and seniors,” said Tom Rutledge, Charter’s chairman and CEO. “Spectrum Internet Assist is an important next step in providing true high-speed connections to those who would otherwise continue to face a digital inequality in this country.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Assembly’s new Communications and Conveyance Committee, joined Charter and other government representatives in an auditorium filled with students and parents April 7 at Stevenson to commemorate the introduction.

They were also joined by the California Emerging Technology Fund, School2Home and the Hollenbeck Youth Center of Boyle Heights.

“In my new role, I am 100 percent focused on what we as a state can do to bridge the digital divide and ensure that everyone has equal access to technology,” Santiago said. “I am proud to stand with Charter Communications as they launch their new Spectrum Internet Assist program in my district. I applaud their efforts toward helping California progress, and I can’t wait to see what these students and teachers are able to achieve with regular access to the most up-to-date information at their fingertips.”

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Broadband Council Hears Updates on 5G, IoT and the Internet for All Act

Techwire

Kayla Nick-Kearney | April 10, 2017

California Broadband Council members met in downtown Sacramento last week to discuss the state’s Internet needs and potential solutions. The meeting was led by California CIO Amy Tong, the council's chair....

A portion of the meeting focused on 5G and the Internet of Things with presentations from Verizon and AT&T on network capabilities.

As more things become connected, more Californians need to be connected, California Emerging Technology Fund CEO Sunne Wright McPeak said in a call with Techwire.

With this in mind, AB980 from Assemblymember Jim Wood was introduced to allow Caltrans to lay broadband conduit in high-priority areas under a “dig-once” plan. Techwire recently wrote about the legislation.

During the council meeting, McPeak discussed other legislation, such as the Internet for All Now Act, which was introduced by Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia, Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Kevin McCarty and a dozen other legislators. The bill, AB 1665, would expand the reach of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), a grant program funded through surcharges that was created a decade ago to help bring broadband to unserved and underserved communitites.

“They are stating very clearly that it is the goal of the state of California to close the digital divide,” McPeak said.

CASF, as currently constructed, uses an existing phone surcharge with the overarching goal of bringing broadband infrastructure to 98 percent of households, especially in rural communities. The goal is that 90 percent of all households using high-speed Internet from home have access on a device that is not a smartphone. But a lingering issue is that 14 percent of Californians who do have high-speed Internet only have a smartphone, which makes them underconnected, McPeak said.

“It’s still difficult for a student to do their homework on a smartphone. It’s difficult to get workforce skills if you’re an adult, using a smartphone only,” McPeak said.

Without connectivity, people cannot access government services and town economies cannot compete. Low-performing schools, which are often located in low-income neighborhoods, don't have access to devices, which can lead to stunted digital literacy, she said.

“That all adds up to 12 million people in California who are not participating in the digital economy,” McPeak said.

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Bridging the Digital Divide Is Imperative for Economic Prosperity

Sacramento Bee

By Barbara O'Connor | April 10, 2016

Although California is a powerhouse of technology and innovation, the digital divide persists for rural communities and low-income neighborhoods:

▪  30 percent of all households don’t have high-speed internet service and a computer at home.

▪  43 percent of rural residents don’t have reliable high-speed internet access.

While the state has made significant progress since 2008 in increasing home broadband use from 55 percent to 84 percent of all households, the sad news is that too many households remain stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide

And, the gulf between the “digital haves” and “digital have-nots” is the greatest for the most disadvantaged residents: While 16 percent of the overall population is not connected at home with high-speed internet service, 32 percent of low-income households, 32 percent of Spanish-speaking families, 29 percent of people with disabilities, 37 percent of adults without a high-school diploma and 44 percent of seniors remain unconnected.

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And, the gulf between the “digital haves” and “digital have-nots” is the greatest for the most disadvantaged residents: While 16 percent of the overall population is not connected at home with high-speed internet service, 32 percent of low-income households, 32 percent of Spanish-speaking families, 29 percent of people with disabilities, 37 percent of adults without a high-school diploma and 44 percent of seniors remain unconnected.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article143345164.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article143345164.html#storylink=cpy

Internet For All Now Act Will Benefit Local Tribal Lands

Eureka Times-Record

By Eric Cutright | March 24, 2017

Communication woes plague Orleans, California, a small riverside community located in an isolated corner of Humboldt County. Orleans residents have no cell service, and land-line phones suffer from dropped calls, echo, static and multi-hour outages. Traditionally, high-speed internet in Orleans was completely absent, but no longer. The Karuk Tribe launched Áan Chúuphan (“Talking Line”) internet service in October 2015, and during the first 12 months over half of the community signed up for internet access.

The Karuk Tribe constructed Áan Chúuphan with grant funds from federal and state sources, especially the California Advanced Services Fund. CASF provides excellent opportunities for communities that lack broadband to build the modern infrastructure which has become vital for communication in the 21st century. CASF has funded high-speed internet connections to over 300,000 households in California. Unfortunately, the CASF fund is nearly exhausted, leaving millions of California households in digital darkness.

Extending the life of CASF and injecting it with new capital is the best way for Californians to continue to build out new and faster internet to the vast areas of the state still without reliable communications. The Internet For All Now Act (AB 1665) proposes to do just that.

Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia introduced The Internet For All Now Act in the California State Legislature on Feb. 17. If passed, this act will propel additional high-speed internet access throughout the state for 10 more years, adding millions of dollars to CASF with the explicit goal of approving infrastructure projects that will provide broadband access to no less than 98 percent of California households.

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To Close the Digital Divide, Fund Community Organizations

LA Wave

By Cesar Zaldivar-Motts | March 10, 2017

In 2007, my wife Emma Hernandez and I finished graduate degrees at University of Kansas and decided to head home and open a bilingual computer training and digital literacy center in Southeast Los Angeles.

The idea was simple: connect the thousands of people offline to the Internet and make sure they have access to affordable computers and broadband, so they won’t be further disadvantaged from education and job opportunities.

Over the years, I have seen the effects of this approach. The Southeast Community Development Corporation has educated more than 4,000 children and adults in digital literacy skills, connected 2,500 people to broadband at home, sold 500 affordable and often refurbished computers and established 12 computer centers throughout Los Angeles.

We have helped kids do their homework, adults get jobs and seniors connect to health services. We are now also focused on teaching advanced computer skills and providing training in robotics, programming, refurbishment and e-waste.

Some have argued that our work should be handled by public libraries or schools. But there are just too many people in our area — many of whom are low-income and Spanish speaking — who are not well served by those institutions due to underfunding. Indeed, a 2016 California broadband survey conducted by the Field Poll found that among the state’s Spanish-speaking Latinos, only 39 percent connect to the Internet through a home-computing device. Those folks may be smartphone literate, but when it comes to higher Internet skills they are being left behind.

Some examples: Recently, a family of four walked through our doors very distressed. The mother and father had been informed by the landlord of their Section 8 housing that their apartment building was being converted and they had 60 days to move out.

The landlord gave them a web address, which he said contained apartment listings, but the couple didn’t have a computer or Internet at home and they didn’t know how to search online. Our technology center staff taught them to search listings and they discovered they had more housing options than they previously thought, giving them a greater sense of control over their lives.

Or take the example of a factory worker in his late 50s who walked through our doors in need of basic computer help. He has landed a job with a local manufacturing company and the last step of the application was beyond him: filling out an online form — something he had never done. We set him up with a computer and walked him through the process. We also showed him websites that listed similar jobs, should he want to consider other opportunities. His eyes were opened to new possibilities.

Or take the example of a mother of four, who stumbled upon the Southeast Community Development Corporation Technology Center after spending $6 printing out her child’s homework at Kinkos, a fee that was bad for her budget. We gave her son unlimited free time to finish his school assignment and charged his mother 10 cents to print out his report. She now brings all of her children to our technology center, so they can properly finish and submit their homework.

Many people, including some of our elected officials, do not know that half of low-income, urban Californians are disconnected from the Internet, do not have computers at home and lack basic digital literacy skills. Even fewer understand the crucial role community-based organizations play to close the digital divide.

But if they want to ensure educational and economic opportunities for all, they must understand this reality. And then they must put power to action and support the Internet For All Now Act.

AB 1665, which has been introduced to the Legislature by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia with the support of 11 other legislators, largely calls for support of broadband infrastructure in California’s rural and remote areas. A portion of it, however, demands support for community-based organizations, which are making sure that 21st-century skills and technology are available to all.

Cesar Zaldivar-Motts is executive director of the Southeast Community Development Corporation. He also serves on the boards of directors of several community organizations in Southeast Los Angeles County.

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Only 43 Percent of California’s Rural Residents Have Broadband Internet Access

Pacific Standard

Rick Paulas | December 23, 2016

When you think of California, you think of its mystic coastline and majestic natural parks. You think of San Francisco’s foggy hills and the glimmering sprawl of Los Angeles. Maybe you think of the missions, or the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or the hippies, or the redwoods, or the empty cul-de-sacs of McMansions in Orange County.

What you don’t tend to think about is the huge oval between the Sierra Nevadas and the Coastal Ranges—the 200,000-square-mile swath that encompasses Redding, Stockton, Sacramento, Bakersfield, and the farmland in between. This is California’s Central Valley, one of the most important agricultural regions in the world, where more than 250 crops are grown and nearly a quarter of the country’s food supply is produced.

And yet, there’s barely any Internet access.

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One Cure for California’s rural health care needs

Sacramento Bee

Eric Brown | December 16, 2016

Digital health innovations and applications, including virtual doctor’s appointments and smartphone health apps, can help us live better and longer lives.

But many rural Californians don’t have access to these services as access to broadband internet and access to health care is rapidly becoming one and the same.

More than 5 million Californians live in rural areas and many don’t have enough doctors in their communities, as few as 43 primary care physicians per 100,000 people. Some rural residents are forced to drive hundreds of miles for specialty care.

Modern broadband communications networks and technologies can help bridge this gap, connecting patients though videoconferencing, remote patient monitoring and electronic messaging. With a tablet or smartphone, patients can virtually see doctors or specialists across the state. With mobile apps, patients can monitor a chronic condition and send real-time data to doctors for assessment and follow-up. This not only brings quality care to rural patients, but it also saves patients and caregivers time and money.

As the state’s largest group of public health clinics and hospitals and doctors engaged in telehealth, California Telehealth Network has seen it accelerate considerably over the last two years. Our 450-plus sites report telemedicine consultations have increased by more than 60 percent over the past year. Thousands of patients in rural communities such as Alturas, Brawley, Portola, Ridgecrest and even Catalina Island can see a specialist without ever leaving their local community.

To continue this momentum and increase access and quality of health care in rural communities, it is crucial that providers have access to modern communications networks. We must encourage our elected officials and policymakers to continue investing in broadband and advanced technologies that will help level the playing field for rural areas and lower health care costs for the entire state.

Already, 96 percent of California has broadband access. We need to stay focused on reaching the rest of the state. The future of healthcare is clear. Everyone should have access to that future.

Eric Brown is CEO of California Telehealth Network.


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