Heidi Hall: Save Nevada County from the digital divide
As a Nevada County supervisor, protecting the health and economic well-being of my community is a top priority.
The pandemic showed us how critical modern broadband access (defined as 100 mbps, high-speed internet service that is always on and available) is for education, health, economic opportunities and equity. Broadband is now just as essential to modern life as electricity and running water. Yet, as I write this today, 68% of our neighbors are stuck in broadband monopolies and 31% have absolutely no access to high speed broadband.
In fact, those community members most adversely impacted by the pandemic — low income, Black, Latino, indigenous and disabled Californians — are the most likely to be caught in the digital divide.
Gov. Gavin Newsom took bold, historic steps to address this inequity by including a detailed $7 billion broadband package in the May revision budget.
The importance of broadband has been a huge need for our community for many years. In 2020 broadband was incorporated into the county’s priority objective to advance economic development.
In January, we formally adopted broadband as a stand-alone 2021 priority objective. The goal is clear: Equitably expand broadband to support economic development, distance-learning, telework, telemedicine, and general quality of life for all residents by championing the implementation of Nevada County Broadband Strategy Plan and last-mile infrastructure projects.
Gov. Newsom’s proposal includes a workable plan backed by California Public Utilities Commission research that will improve broadband access and affordability to all Californians, even those with current access.
Constructing an open access middle-mile network will open doors to more providers completing last-mile projects to under- and unserved homes and businesses. This key component of Gov. Newsom’s plan would break up long-standing local monopolies, paving the way for lower rates, higher speeds and better customer service. Investing in middle-mile now will also better leverage any additional federal broadband funds that might become available in the future.
Even when California has the federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to get started on broadband right now, the governor’s package is at risk of being delayed well past the June 15 state budget deadline. Why squander this rare opportunity of federal infrastructure funding and a historic state budget surplus? Forward progress on broadband can’t wait any longer than June 15. Access delayed means access denied.
Importantly, the governor’s proposal builds on our local effort and puts approximately $3 billion of funding on the table for last-mile projects. A new statewide open-access, middle-mile network will pave the way for last-mile providers to connect under-served or unserved homes and businesses to the network.
For rural communities like ours, last-mile infrastructure development is hindered by closed networks that stifle competition and prevent development opportunities from penciling out.
Simply put, more money needs to go to last-mile to meet our greatest challenges and serve the common good, which the governor’s proposal does. As we emerge from the pandemic, let us do so stronger than we were before, not hamstrung by a continued lack of broadband development.
On behalf of the residents of Nevada County who are among the 2.3 million unconnected Californians or the 15.4 million stuck in a one-provider monopoly, I urge the Legislature to connect California now by including Gov. Newsom’s broadband package in the June 15 budget.
You can help by calling your state elected officials and encouraging them to support this effort. California should have invested in broadband 20 years ago. Why wait any longer?
Heidi Hall is the District 1 supervisor for the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.
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