Expanding broadband access is essential to advancing equity in our increasingly digital society.
So why are California regulators taking action to restrict the use of federal and state broadband subsidies to support communities that need it most, widening the digital divide?
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will vote as early as August 25 to approve a proposed ruling that would limit the ability of wireless service providers to combine federal Affordable Connectivity Program dollars with California LifeLine subsidies, undermining affordability. broadband and disproportionately hurting -income Californians.
CPUC staff justified the fact that low-income consumers do not need more data and should not complain about being relegated to second-class service.
The proposed decision would cap data usage for low-income customers at 6 gigabytes per month. That’s a fraction of the more than 30 gigabytes consumed each month by the average US smartphone user, according to market research firm The NPD Group.
In our bandwidth-hungry world, video streaming is often necessary for e-learning, remote work, and telehealth appointments. One hour of standard-definition video streaming — a single class, job interview, or telehealth exam — consumes a full gigabyte of data. High-definition video streaming consumes three gigabytes per hour.
CPUC staff justified the fact that low-income consumers do not need more data and should not complain about being relegated to second-class service. Rather than reinforce harmful stereotypes that underserved community members should settle for less and are unable to choose the broadband plan that best suits their needs, regulators must recognize the growing need for connectivity and reassess minimum service standards.
Millions of Californians depend on affordable connectivity options that are now under threat to access remote work, e-learning, telehealth, and vital government, social and community services.
The proposed decision, if passed, would negate opportunities for technology access and upward mobility for the neediest among us – in a state known for innovation that prides itself on being a beacon of opportunity for all .
The proposed move also goes against the Biden administration’s “whole of government” approach to lowering internet costs for more American families. Federal authorities have urged California and other states to speed up enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
According to the White House, about one million households have been enrolled since GetInternet.gov launched in May, but more than 48 million American households are eligible for the program. We must maximize all available federal and state funds to increase enrollment and serve more eligible families.
Federal, state and local lawmakers have called for a comprehensive approach to closing the digital divide. The same goes for various stakeholders representing non-profit organizations, educational institutions, wireless service providers and regional government entities who attended a broadband workshop hosted by BizFed Institute, a 501(c)3 that strives to break down barriers with information and has played a leading role in efforts to achieve digital equity.
Bundling conforms to this recommended approach, providing the most robust and affordable access to wireless connectivity without sacrificing wireline broadband service. All Californians –– not just the most affluent –– deserve affordable access to high-quality, basic communications in the form of wired and wireless options.
The CPUC should maximize available government subsidies to increase broadband affordability without limiting the ability of wireless service providers to pool subsidies. It’s the most sensible path to a brighter, more connected future for all Californians looking to learn, earn and contribute to their communities.
Let’s ensure California remains a global leader in technology and social equity.
Editor’s Note: Kevin Harbor is president of the BizFed Institute, a 501(c)3 that brings together thought leaders, innovators, elected officials, and diverse business groups to strengthen communities across California.