California Jump-starts Plan to Close Digital Divide

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California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order commanding agencies to explore every path, including the private sector, to improve rural broadband for telehealth and students. The order directs key state agencies to do more immediately to close the digital divide. The directive may be seen by other states as a good primer for managing their broadband deployment as schools make decisions about how to open this fall.   

With Executive Order No. 73-20, the state’s Department of Technology has been authorized to “leverage the state’s contract authorities as resources to further statewide broadband access and adoption,” reported Techwire. Newsom followed up on efforts this spring to provide devices and connectivity as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. 

He told the California Department of Technology (CDT), the California Broadband Council (CBC), the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), the California Department of General Services (DGS) and the California Department of Education (CDE), among others, to take actions that could improve connectivity around the state — and drive opportunities in the private sector. Among the takeaways:  

  • Emphasizing broadband’s large potential to drive distance learning, telehealth and data use during the pandemic, the EO directs CDT, DGS and the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) to “regularly convene private-sector companies in an effort to understand and predict current and future demand for broadband” in order to enable the state to “allocate resources and manage policies and programs” supporting broadband goals and innovation.
  • The order also directs the CBC to create a new State Broadband Action Plan by December 31, and to review it annually. The EO sets a minimum goal of 100 megabits-per-second download speed for state agencies under Newsom’s authority “to guide infrastructure investments and program implementation” to benefit residents. The plan incorporates that speed goal, and the order directs CDT’s Office of Broadband and Digital Literacy to support and monitor implementation of the plan and the order.

Plan goals should include a road map to accelerate deployment and adoption of broadband by state and local government; publicly available information on all federal and state funding opportunities; and “provisions to maximize” the inclusion of tribal lands in broadband access and adoption opportunities, per the directive.

“THIS is why I moved to the public sector, to spend my time moving the needle on missions that matter,” CDT’s Stephanie Tom wrote on LinkedIn, according to Techwire. As the department’s deputy director for strategic planning, broadband and digital literacy, she described herself as “proud to lead California’s first broadband executive order in over a decade.”

  • CDT, working with DGS, is directed to look for chances to “leverage the state’s contract authorities as resources to further statewide broadband access and adoption.” GO-Biz is directed to identify funding opportunities for broadband deployment and adoption by coordinating state agency efforts to maximize such funding.
  • Among deployment aspects, CalOES is directed to work with jurisdictions implementing Next-Generation 911 to expand broadband infrastructure “to enhance public safety and disaster response.” It says the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in collaboration with CDT and other departments should seek opportunities to use programs under its jurisdiction to “accelerate broadband deployment and to leverage utility infrastructure to increase access to existing fiber;” and DGS should inventory state property “for possible use for broadband infrastructure” based on criteria from CPUC, the California Department of Transportation and other agencies.

Additionally, the California Department of Food and Agriculture is directed to “identify and facilitate” new broadband projects in support of “precision agriculture and food systems in rural communities” and with CalOES to inventory broadband connectivity at all fairgrounds.

  • CDE is “requested to continue leading statewide efforts to ensure…students have the computing devices and connectivity” they need for distance learning and online instruction. On August 5, CDE announced discounted service by T-Mobile and “special pricing” from Apple on its iPad + cellular — which it said “has been available to schools on top of its education volume pricing.” The companies expect to be able to offer “at least 100,000 devices … through the back-to-school time frame,” and fulfill school district demands through the end of the calendar year, according to CDE.

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