“The COVID-19 Pandemic has exacerbated the deeply entrenched digital divide, which has left many lower income, Latino, African American, and rural communities without access to high-speed broadband services,” said Gonzalez, a Democrat representing the greater Long Beach area, in her fact sheet about the bill.
“Whether it be children doing homework outside of fast food restaurants, or medically-fragile individuals who can’t access services through tele-health care, the pandemic has shown a spotlight on the inequality in access to broadband that has existed in our state for years,” she added.
Gonzalez’s bill, which doesn’t have a number yet, is called The Broadband for All Act. It relies on changing the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) program to both extend the life of its surcharge by eliminating a 2022 sunset and creating the Broadband Bond Financing Securitization Account as a source for grants and loan guarantees for local governments.
The bill also would change the CASF grant requirements to allow work in areas where broadband is faster than dial-up speeds, but still obsolete — too slow to handle video downloads or real-time streaming interactivity. It would put local governments on equal footing with nonprofits when applying for grants, and would allow the new Securitization Account to be used for covering bond financing costs when a government uses bonds for infrastructure.
If the bill were to pass as written today, the CASF surcharge — currently placed primarily on telephone land lines — would expand to cover other telephones, but would be capped at 23 cents a month. That still would provide a significant pot of money to support infrastructure improvements.
“This would allow local governments and nonprofits to tap in,” Gonzalez said Friday. “This impacts especially rural areas, but urban areas too. It is a very bipartisan issue — rural Republicans want to see that investment in their areas.”
Gonzalez has been working on bridging the digital divide since she was on the Long Beach City Council. She helped craft a city policy creating a digital inclusion network while there, and pushed to bring affordable internet service to the low-income areas of her First District.
“My time on the City Council has given me such a great view of these types of things,” she said. “We were having children doing their homework on their phones, outside of fast food restaurants (where they could tap into internet networks).”
Now, with the emphasis on virtual or online schooling, a fast, reliable internet service is more important than ever, Gonzalez said. She added that her bill would allow governments to decide where to put infrastructure like fiber-optic lines, and could open competition for smaller service providers as well.
“We’re at a point where I think we need to ask more of our industry partners,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not just a matter of providing strong broadband, but making it affordable as well.”