California wanted to bridge the digital divide but left rural areas behind. Now that’s about to change
Author Jazmine Ulloa discusses the recent pushes by both the state government in California and local communities to increase access and speeds of internet. Despite the state government creating million-dollar programs to push for these goals, Ulloa notes that the benefits are not seen state-wide and many of the rural communities continue to lack even basic internet access. Ulloa begins by introducing Winters, a small “farming community of 7,000 west of Sacramento” (1). Winters only recently instituted a program that enabled children to take home laptops, which benefited both families by increasing computer literacy rates and connectivity that parents could have with schools. Despite the benefits that some communities have had from these shifts, Sen. Mike McGuire notes the sizeable gap between connection in areas like Silicon Valley and rural communities, stating that going to these rural communities is like a “step back in time” (9). Ulloa mentions the California Advanced Services Fund, a program which was made to “offer companies incentive to help bridge the gap” (1). While the program’s goals of connecting 98% were nearly fulfilled, rural households were still disproportionally connected with only half of rural families being connected by the end of the program. Ulloa further discusses the “bitter disagreements [that] arose between community advocates and major telecoms over how any further increases in money for the program should be spent” (5), noting that major telecoms had little financial incentive to build infrastructure in low-income areas as community leaders had hoped. Ulloa elaborates that these disputes have led to reorganization of the California Advanced Services Fund, in which the goal would be “to connect 98% of households in each of 17 consortia, geographical regions formed by groups of tech advocates and local officials that span the state” (7). According to the article, these changes have also been met with disagreements, most notably in the Senate, on how the money should be spent. Some like Trish Steel of Mendocino broadband alliance argue that “companies could spend their federal dollars anywhere in the state” (10), which would not guarantee any benefits to certain areas across California. Others, such as Cecilia Aguiar Curry, argue that the infrastructure could help set the base for future developments in rural and lower-income areas.