The Year In Broadband…
Broadband has long been recognized as indispensable to equity and economic development. In recent years, significant progress has been made to ensure statewide access. Still, over 8 million California residents do not have broadband subscriptions. We have a long way to go before broadband in California is truly ubiquitous.
In 2020, there has been accelerated momentum around the issue. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced many Californians to pivot some of the most crucial elements of their life — work, school, healthcare, access to services — to an online setting. This shift is an urgent reminder that, in this day and age, broadband infrastructure and adoption is as crucial as roads or electricity.
Valley Vision works with counties, cities, anchor institutions, community groups, businesses, policymakers, and others to bridge the Digital Divide and promote equal access to technology. In 2020, this was embodied in our work contributing to state broadband policy, together with the California Broadband Council, California Forward, the California Emerging Technology Fund, and legislative leaders; our continued role as manager of the Connected Capital Area Broadband Consortium; and our management of the Sacramento Coalition for Digital Inclusion, among others. Broadband infrastructure and adoption is also identified as a high priority of the region’s Prosperity Strategy.
- Valley Vision worked closely with California Forward, the California Emerging Technology Fund, and regional broadband consortia to provide input on AB 14, the Internet for All Now Act of 2021. The Bill would authorize the ongoing collection of an existing surcharge on revenues collected by telecommunications providers from customers. The surcharge funds the California Advanced Services Fund, which provides rural and urban communities with infrastructure and other grants administered by the California Public Utilities Commission. This new legislation was announced by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry at the California Economic Summit during a panel on Bridging the Digital Divide, together with Senator Mike McGuire; Trish Kelly, Managing Director of Valley Vision; and Deputy Director Stephanie Tom of the California Department of Technology. Senator Lena Gonzalez introduced similar legislation — SB 4, the Broadband for All Now Act. Both legislators will be principal co-authors on each Bill. This is a major milestone and we hope for quick action in 2021.
- Valley Vision, in collaboration with the California Broadband Council and California Forward, facilitated input for the State’s Broadband Action Plan. An updated draft of the Plan was presented at the Broadband Council’s meeting on Thursday, December 17. The Plan provides a rich overview of the state of broadband across the State, a financial cost model for reaching all Californians with high-speed Internet, and many recommendations for action in 2021.
- Valley Vision co-led this year’s Ensuring Broadband For All working group at the California Economic Summit. The group’s efforts focused on increasing broadband access and adoption in both rural and urban areas. The group developed core principles to drive funding and policy solutions; encouraged collaboration on legislative solutions; supported the State Broadband Action Plan; and worked with the California Public Utilities Commission and others on innovative approaches to infrastructure investment, including leveraging federal resources.
- Valley Vision manages the Connected Capital Area Broadband Consortium. Funding for the Consortium was renewed by the California Public Utilities Commission in October 2019, for a three-year period. The Consortium is charged with engaging stakeholders to achieve the broadband connectivity goal of 98% of all households, assisting internet service providers in the region with their California Advanced Services Fund infrastructure grant applications, among other goals. In 2020, Digital Path and Frontier submitted a total of three applications to carry out broadband deployment in Sacramento, Sutter, and Yolo Counties. The Consortium will continue to work with incumbent, competitive, and new entrant internet service providers.
- Valley Vision, together with its partners, finalized and published the Sacramento Region’s Prosperity Strategy — the economic roadmap that ensures a strong, inclusive, and equitable economy. The Strategy calls out broadband infrastructure and adoption, including digital skills acquisition, as high priorities for the region, and was approved by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
- Valley Vision is working with local government partners in Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba Counties to identify priority areas for broadband expansions or upgrades, including 5G. This includes generating an infrastructure and asset inventory in collaboration with the California Public Utilities Commission, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, Caltrans, CENIC, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, the Los Rios Community College District, Sacramento State, the City of Sacramento, the Sacramento Promise Zone, among others.
- Valley Vision, the California Emerging Technology Fund, and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments virtually co-convened broadband partners and stakeholders to discuss strategies for accelerating broadband infrastructure investments across the region. The event also showcased highlights of “Getting Connected,” a resource guide for local and regional government leaders featuring best practices, policies, and innovative models to catalyze infrastructure investment and adoption. The resource guide will be rolled out statewide in January 2021.
- Valley Vision put out a Business Broadband Service Survey to assess the current status of broadband service availability and subscription for businesses and community anchor institutions. Results from the survey will help determine and recommend improvements to broadband stakeholders, such as providers and local governments. Outreach for this survey will continue in 2021, through social media, newsletters, and outreach to business chambers.
- Valley Vision launched a campaign — via social media, its newsletters, and outreach to partners and stakeholders — around ground-truth testing of broadband speeds using the CalSPEED app. The app securely tests residential and mobile broadband speeds. Often, the speeds reported by internet service providers are not accurate. Information from the CalSPEED app creates an accurate assessment of actual broadband availability and adoption. Results are used to update the California Public Utilities Commission statewide coverage map and inform infrastructure investments. The campaign resulted in more than 500 CalSPEED tests in our Consortium region. It will continue throughout 2021.
- Valley Vision is completing its Preferred Scenario report for the region, in partnership with the California Emerging Technology Fund. The Preferred Scenario report identifies gaps in broadband deployment and access and the available local assets to address these gaps for the region’s Preferred Scenario corridor — the I -5 corridor. This corridor was identified through the Strategic Broadband Corridors project with Caltrans and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. This report will identify strategies for leveraging investments.
- Valley Vision, in partnership with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, hosted a webinar focused on exploring innovative broadband infrastructure solutions, specifically the co-op model.
- The Federal Communications Commission announced the results of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. Winners in our Consortium region (Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba Counties) include Cal.Net, Geolinks, Frontier, LTD Broadband, and Space Exploration Technologies (Space X). Most locations will be receiving broadband with speeds of 100/20 Mbps, and gigabit-speed broadband. Click here to see the map.
- Valley Vision is developing a Broadband Master Plan for Yuba County, in partnership with the County and Yuba Water Agency. The plan will be completed in the second quarter of 2021.
- Valley Vision is managing the Sacramento Coalition for Digital Inclusion, in collaboration with the city of Sacramento, the Sacramento Public Library, the Los Rios Community College District, California State University Sacramento, and Clear Strategies, among other community partners. The Coalition will be rolling out the 2021 Action Plan for broadband access, adoption, affordability, and digital inclusion and skills, including scale-up opportunities beyond Sacramento County.
- Valley Vision, in collaboration with the Delta Protection Commission, developed a broadband coverage report that will help to identify areas where service most needs improvement. This will empower community leaders and internet service providers to leverage existing opportunities for service expansion and upgrades, and to seek broadband deployment funding.
Valley Vision hosted a webinar on “Community Broadband in Yolo County,” in partnership with the Woodland Technology Alliance. The webinar was a conversation about the current state of the County’s technical infrastructure, as well as solutions to address the community’s broadband gaps. A full recording can be found here, and a summary of the discussion can be found here.
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Trish Kelly is Valley Vision’s Managing Director, leading its food, agriculture, workforce, and broadband initiatives.
David Espinoza is a Valley Vision Project Leader managing broadband projects and other initiatives in the Innovation & Infrastructure impact area.
Isa Avanceña is a Valley Vision Project Associate supporting the Board of Directors, and the Innovation & Infrastructure and Leadership and Civic Engagement Impact areas.