Barbara O'Connor | April 27, 2016
Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to act last week and it could set back for years the progress that California has made in closing the digital divide.
The chairman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee deferred to industry interests and went against a large and diverse coalition of elected officials and community organizations working to close the divide in both rural and urban areas. That caused Assemblyman Mark Stone, a Scotts Valley Democrat and author of Assembly Bill 1758, to pull the bill.
Supporters of the Internet for All Now Act include Valley Vision, Communication Workers of America, the California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities, Rural County Representatives of California, California Black Chamber of Commerce, La Clinica de la Raza, the Youth Policy Institute and United Ways of California.
The act would authorize collection of an existing modest surcharge on phone bills into a fund to support construction of broadband infrastructure into unserved rural communities and to help low-income households get online.
The fund was established by the Legislature in 2008 and has been an effective tool for leveraging private and federal investments into communities without adequate high-speed Internet access. The legislation would cap the annual amount received from consumers to less than what was collected in each of the last two years.
Rarely is there an opportunity to invest in the future and provide relief to consumers. Further, legislators must understand that the existing surcharge is the only available source of money to help close the digital divide without enacting a new fee or tax or authorizing a new budget appropriation. This mechanism must be made to work or there will be years more of delay in achieving equitable Internet access.