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Our Broadband Plan for 2017

As the global economy continues its transformation into a digital economy – with smart cities, smart cars, cloud computing and the quickly evolving Internet of Things – broadband connectivity, or high-speed Internet access, has become an essential utility. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, broadband access has come to be seen as the “roads, sewers and water of the modern age.”

Among other uses, access to broadband extends the reach of healthcare; expands market opportunity for local businesses; enhances communications for public safety; enriches student learning and widens educational opportunities; provides a gateway to government, financial and other online services; and serves as an entry point for employment. Broadband access can also help support California’s goals for reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases by reducing vehicle miles traveled through telecommuting; improving the efficient use of resources with precision agriculture; and helping rural residents avoid long commutes to health centers by deploying local telehealth facilities.

In the 21st Century, opportunity and prosperity belong to the digitally-enabled. Yet, according to a newly released poll by the Berkeley Institute for Government Studies, for far too many of our fellow community members, the access required to capitalize on the digital economy remains out of reach. In many of our rural communities, Internet service is too slow, too expensive, and in some cases, not available at all. In urban communities, availability of broadband services may not be an issue, but choice, affordability and other barriers to adoption exist.

As the need for bandwidth grows exponentially with the digital economy, Gigabit-level service, service speeds capable of transferring information at one billion bits per second, will quickly become a necessity. Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission defines areas with Internet service speeds of 6 million bits per second (mbps) as served and the Federal Communications Commission defines those with service availability of 25 mbps as served.

Is our existing Internet infrastructure up to the task of providing the Capital region with competitive advantage for the digital age? Probably not. Based on an analysis of the CPUC’s service availability data conducted by Tellus Venture Associates, our region’s broadband infrastructure grades at the county-level range from a “C” at best to a “D-minus” based on the CPUC standard definition of served. Drilling down further at the level of Census Designated Places, some areas of the region fare even worse with a grade of “F”.

Improving infrastructure and service availability has proven to be a difficult task. For one, there is lack of clarity on who is responsible for infrastructure improvements and ensuring that essential broadband service is available to all. Left to market forces alone, many areas will continue to be unserved or underserved due to the high costs of serving areas with too few customers spread over too great of distance. The bottom line is the investment simply does not pencil out for private industry in some locations. To-date, government, industry and consumers have not been willing or able to cover the full costs of needed infrastructure upgrades.

California is viewed world-wide as a technological leader. Yet some areas within a 15-minute drive of the State Capitol, as in Clarksburg, lack adequate access to broadband services. Public investments, public-private partnerships, and collaboration are required to deliver the infrastructure we need to be an economically competitive region in the 21st Century. The California Legislature created the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to provide a portion of this needed funding. Administered by the CPUC, the CASF also provides funding for regional broadband consortia to facilitate public-private collaboration and help get infrastructure projects in the CASF pipeline. Valley Vision has managed the Connected Capital Broadband Consortium (CCABC) since its inception in 2012. Following a two-year hiatus, the CPUC awarded funding to CCABC to continue its mission of closing the Digital Divide and advancing economic opportunity in the digital age. CCABC’s footprint covers Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

The CCABC’s goals and activities include assisting with the implementation of broadband infrastructure plans underway across the region; promoting the deployment and availability of broadband services; and encouraging broadband access and adoption for residents and business. These efforts include partnering with jurisdictions, service providers, and community members to identify, prioritize, and advance a core set of priority projects for infrastructure investment. In addition, we’ll be surveying business districts and employment centers to identify broadband assets and barriers to economic development.  We’ll also work with stakeholders to identify high priority underserved and unserved target populations and communities, and partner with local anchor institutions, such as libraries, schools, and hospitals, to leverage infrastructure resources and serve as broadband access points. We’ll continue to work with partners like the Metro Chamber to elevate broadband as a regional policy priority through initiatives such as the State Legislative Summit and annual Capital-to-Capital federal advocacy program. We’ll also continue work with the California Emerging Technology Fund on efforts to improve educational outcomes through our local School2Home projects, and advance innovation through projects such as the Ag Tech pilot currently underway in Yolo County.

In short, the CCABC’s goal is to facilitate a coalition of residents, local governments, businesses and industry representatives working together toward the common objective of affordable high-speed broadband infrastructure that delivers promise of prosperity and opportunity to all in our region in the 21st Century digital economy.

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Tammy Cronin is a Valley Vision Project Leader working in the clean air, broadband and workforce development portfolios.

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