Most Californians take internet access for granted. If an outage is experienced, it’s usually a mere inconvenience.
But in many rural (and not-so-rural) communities in California, broadband is slow or nonexisitent. Providers report that broadband is available to 96% of California residents. Only 4% of the population, or about 1.4 million residents, living in rural and remote areas do not have access today. However, the unserved portion of California is a significant percentage of the state geography. Thus, broadband access for rural and remote areas remains a priority challenge for CETF and California.
The lack of High-speed broadband deployment in rural California is one of the most critical missing infrastructure components. The lack of broadband suffocates economic development before it can start. High-speed broadband provides essential benefits by allowing increased economic and trade opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses; access to medical care (telehealth/telemedicine); educational opportunities; and enhanced public safety – improving overall quality of life. Speed of commerce service is a critical step in the development of strong rural communities.
Put simply, those without access to broadband cannot be as prosperous as those who do have it; there are digital “haves” and “have nots.”
At CALCOG, we hear about these challenges from our rural members like Humboldt County Association of Governments or the Imperial Valley Transportation Commission. Accordingly, we were pleased that we could recently partner with Caltrans, the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), and Valley Vision to identify planned transportation projects along routes that have been identified by the broadband providers as “strategic.”
Our role in the project is small but important. We combed through a lot of county Transportation Implementation Programs (TIPs) to map projects in areas all that are not currently serviced by broadband, or are in strategic corridors that are necessary to provide broadband. These projects will be combined with lists of State Highway Operational and Protection Program (SHOPP) developed by Caltrans. Together, they will create a database for internet and broadband service providers to leverage to expand their own networks with a road or bride is already under contractions. These kind of “dig once” opportunities make it easier and less expensive to expand networks more quickly.
CALCOG is also helping spread the word and develop better understanding among key stakeholders. We co-hosted a meeting between the broadband consortia, rural transportation agencies, internet service providers, the California Public Utilities Commission, and Caltrans. CALCOG staff also presented the work to the Rural Counties Task Force, a group of 26 rural agency staff (10 of which are CALCOG members) where the need to extend broadband service is the greatest. The goal of both meetings was to exchange information and create relationships to facilitate collaboration.
We look forward to our continued collaboration to address the problem. We expect the map of projects to be posted soon (its being worked on to be posted online). We will update this post when that occurs.