Opinion: CPUC’s insistence on fiber broadband will leave California with internet “deserts.” | Panda Anku

Internet users in a cafe
Internet users in a cafe. Photo via Pixabay

High-speed Internet has become the 21st century’s version of introducing electricity or developing railroads, yet 15% of California homes do not have access to high-speed Internet and nearly 6% are not connected at all.

Broadband connectivity is so fundamental to our lives and economic system that the idea of ​​over 2 million Californians living without the internet is illogical and outdated.

The communities that are suffering the most are those that are already struggling economically – mostly minorities, mostly Latinos. The new Internet desert is not limited to any one area in our great state. It’s everywhere from Imperial County to Los Angeles, from the Central Valley to the Oregon border.

Something needs to be done and as we near the end of the legislature it is imperative that our elected leaders address this issue and offer solutions. A recent Calmatters article points to two causes plaguing underserved neighborhoods: a lack of infrastructure and the inability to afford an internet connection.

The irony is that the federal and state governments now have a funding surplus to mitigate these problems. California and the federal government are committing vast amounts of money — approximately $7.5 billion — to address the state’s digital divide.

So how come California has so much money to fix these problems but isn’t doing it yet?

The California Public Utilities Commission recently announced rules for the $2 billion California Advanced Service Fund for broadband Internet infrastructure. Eligible projects are defined as “wired” solutions with “download and upload speeds of at least 100 Mbit/s”.

However, the explicit exclusion of alternative wireless broadband solutions prevents countless innovative ISPs from accessing this wealth of state and federal funding, and therefore delays our communities with critical Internet connections.

This isn’t the first time CPUC has restricted alternative solutions to civilian problems. I have personal experience with this. 45 years ago, my San Diego/Tijuana Tours applied for permission to offer tours in my vans and buses to hotel visitors in San Diego, but CPUC guidelines prohibited buses from going where other companies already had tours. It took me three hearings and high legal fees to get approved.

Regarding the CPUC’s wired requirements, fiber is a necessary and incredibly important part of connecting Californians, but not for last mile connections. Fiber optic is the fastest and most reliable technology on the market, but it’s also the most expensive and incredibly slow to deploy amidst the chaos of torn-up streets.

After 20 years of fiber optic deployments in homes, only 20% of American homes now have such connections. Fiber optic plays a role, but it doesn’t work for those living in low-income and underserved areas.

Connecting fiber to the last mile for all Californians would be like building freeways and exit ramps to every single home; it just doesn’t make sense. Wireless options promise flexibility, rapid deployment, and affordability.

Emerging tech startups can deliver internet in days instead of months—affordable, commercial-grade internet. It can happen quickly.

That’s why Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva authored Assembly Bill 2749, a law currently awaiting Assembly approval before going to Governor Gavin Newsom to enact. AB 2749 amends the existing Public Utilities Code to explicitly include wireless technologies to access a portion of the $2 billion to be spent on broadband infrastructure. This inclusion will allow wireless carriers to reach California’s underserved areas quickly and at a fraction of what fiber costs.

The money and technology are available, and AB 2749 can help bring the internet to our neighbors who need it just as much as the rest of us. The CPUC needs to understand that success in closing the digital divide should not depend on the percentage of funds used, but on the number of homes, families and Californians being connected.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a Marine Corps veteran, political adviser and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New York Times Syndicate’s New American News Service

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