Broadband Inequities Persist in California, State Council Reports

The pandemic exposed all manner of inequalities, including access to high speed internet. Almost a quarter of California households did not have broadband subscriptions in 2019, according to a report from California Broadband Council, a state advisory body.

The pandemic also made a speedy and reliable internet connection at home more important than ever before: Patients could meet safely with their doctor via video chat, students took classes on Zoom and some business owners stayed afloat by creating an online presence for the first time.

At a Milken Institute discussion on Sept. 21 in Santa Monica about the digital divide in California, experts and stakeholders examined recent efforts at the state and federal level to address the issue.

Trade association leaders representing the interests of large internet service providers and business owners in counties with spotty internet access discussed the main barriers to broadband access in California, what they hope to see from new state programs and how to ensure that building new infrastructure actually translates into increased internet access.

Here are three takeaways.

Barriers to internet access aren’t just physical.

There are parts of California that lack the physical infrastructure — the fiber cables, for example — for adequate broadband connections.

But not being able to afford an internet connection — either the monthly bill or an internet connected device — is  another barrier for many residents. Another is digital literacy surrounding broadband: Many Californians aren’t familiar with how to set up or use the internet.

Assistance on that subject, says Sunne Wright McPeak, of San Francisco, the president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, needs to be delivered to low-income communities by trusted messengers — groups that already do outreach and can provide information in the language residents understand best.

Physical infrastructure, however, is still a major barrier. Michael Anderson, founder and CEO of Clientworks Inc., a Nevada City–based IT services company, says schools in his area gave out 2,000 hotspots to students, but no improvements were made to cell towers. Then, cell towers in the area crashed and kids couldn’t get online. Students ended up driving to school parking lots, said Anderson, in order to get connected and do their homework.

With good broadband access, microbusinesses flourished in the pandemic.

Areas that have better broadband also tend to have more microbusinesses — businesses with fewer than 10 employees — said Alexandra Rosen, senior director of Venture Forward, a multi-year study funded by web services company GoDaddy to study those very small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Venture Forward surveyed 20 million microbusinesses nationwide and found that regions with more internet-connected businesses saw lower unemployment throughout the pandemic.

“People didn’t have to let their employees go because they could shift online and service other markets,” says Rosen.

The state and federal initiatives commit billions to bridge the digital divide.

Congress and the California Legislature have committed estimated $7.5 billion dollars to bridging the digital divide in California. California’s new broadband infrastructure package is one of the largest state investments in public fiber in the history of the United States, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

One program in that package is a state-run open access middle mile network. a kind of public information highway off which small roads will branch to people’s homes. The idea is that the state will build the highway, and internet service providers will build the private roads to people’s homes.

“We are in danger of wasting a whole lot of money if we do not focus on that last-mile consumer,” says Wright McPeak.

Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, which represents the largest internet providers in the state, says “last-mile coverage” will require public and private partnerships — and that local governments might be able to provide that connectivity too. McIntyre also said she hopes some of the government funding goes to grants for building last-mile connectivity.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” McIntyre says, referring to the significant amount of government funding on the table. “It’s really important that the priorities are set correctly and that the funding goes to those areas that have the greatest need.”

Grace Gedye is a reporter with  CalMatters.


  1. Maybe if our local council wasn’t attending Comcast events and getting pictures holding some Comcast award we wouldn’t need state sponsored broadband initiatives.

    In 2010 Campos received a campaign donation for $200 from Comcast’s Manager of Government Affairs.

    12th page down.

    10/10/2010 Lennies Gutierrez San Jose CA 95112

    Manager Gov’t Affairs Comcast G10 $200.00

    Now someone else made the argument, “It’s only $200” but for everyone else who actually wants to know how this system works. Government Affairs positions are the corporate version of cronyism, usually reserved for those that have voted favorably towards a corporation while in office. Meaning, if Xavier ever made any votes against broadband expansion in CSJ, Comcast will be giving him a job in Government Affairs should he ever not become re-elected.

    Another thing to point out here, Comcast has donated to several Political action committees. If a PAC does campaigning on behalf of a candidate, it doesn’t count towards the candidates campaign expenditures because it’s an “Independent Committee”

    Looks like the Sj Chamber of Commerce got a $6000 donation.

    820668 San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (ChamberPAC) 000 RCP 01/23/2014 07/01/2013 12/31/2013 RCPT A INC7062 OTH Comcast Cable Communications, Inc. San Jose CA 95112- N/A N/A n 08/26/2013 5000.00 6000.00 n INC7062
    Looks like Paul Fong got in on some of that Comcast Action to the tune of $1500.

    1355422 Paul Fong for Assembly 2012 Officeholder Account 000 CTL 01/31/2014 07/01/2013 12/31/2013 11/06/2012 RCPT A INC48 OTH Comcast Corporation Philadelphia PA 19103-2838 n 09/10/2013 1500.00 1500.00 n
    Another $1000 to the Chamber Pac.

    820668 San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (ChamberPAC) 000 RCP 07/31/2013 01/01/2013 06/30/2013 RCPT A INC6808 OTH COMCAST Financial Agency Corporation Philadelphia PA 19103 N/A N/A n 06/24/2013 1000.00 1000.00 n
    Edit 3

    $5000 to the Chamber of Commerce PAC in 2012.

    820668 San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (ChamberPAC) 001 RCP 12/20/2012 07/01/2012 09/30/2012 RCPT A INC6220 OTH COMCAST Financial Agency Corporation Philadelphia PA 19103 N/A N/A n 09/10/2012 1000.00 2650.00 n
    820668 San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (ChamberPAC) 001 RCP 12/20/2012 07/01/2012 09/30/2012 RCPT A INC6256 OTH COMCAST Financial Agency Corporation Philadelphia PA 19103 N/A N/A n 09/10/2012 1650.00 2650.00 n INC6256
    Lenny Guiterrez shows up again in 2012

    820668 San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (ChamberPAC) 001 RCP 12/20/2012 07/01/2012 09/30/2012 RCPT A INC6205 IND Gutierrez Lennies M. Oakland CA 94612 Comcast Cable Director of Govenment Affairs n 08/27/2012 100.00 100.00 n

    Over $380k in 2012 spent by the Comcast lobbying arm. Form F465P3, edit I should have looked at the YTD column.

    1351811 RCP EXPN F465P3 EDT27.25 OTH Comcast Centennial CO 80122 10/30/2012 40

  2. News Flash: Inequities continue to exist in height distribution. Some people are taller than other people. City to request state funding to study the problem and provide community based solutions. AAPI people hit particularly hard. Many local politicians have expressed their outrage at this inequity. A number of them have demand that the Federal Department of Justice review the matter and consider bringing indictments against tall people. Some of the local race hustlers have maintained that white supremacy may be the reason why certain communities are short.

    The mayor suggested that community based programs focusing on the “root causes” of shortness be implemented.


    Oh, I am sorry, this news flash was not actually supposed to be released for at least another year or two — we wouldn’t want to tip our hand on where the progressives are going with all of this nonsense?

  3. data is garbage everywhere in the US

    Americans persistently are served garbage and thank the overloads for taking our money for an inferior product

    thanks both parties for such, as they are p’owned by these corp jokers

  4. In just about every market throughout the United States broadband is distributed via duopoly. In the Bay Area we have Comcast or AT&T. This is the problem. In many markets there is not enough profit for them to expand and provide affordable service. In Southern Cal Cox and Hearst are big providers. Breaking up these operating duopolies would allow expansion into more rural areas of the state.

  5. The opposite is true. These businesses have the economy of scale needed to build infrastructure. What’s needed is simply the political will to declare wideband Internet access a public utility like telephone and electricity. Then all providers would need to serve rural as well as urban, with rural subsidized by urban. I think the big players would be happy to do that, as long as they all were required to.

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