Newsom administration officials and construction executives laid a groundbreaking ceremony in San Diego on Friday, kicking off the start of a massive $6.5 billion, 10,000 mile broadband internet network designed to give high-speed internet to unserved and underserved areas of the state.
While there were proposals for high-speed internet to reach those locations dating back to over a decade, a renewed push in 2020 and 2021 brought forth a more concerted effort. Specifically, Senate Bill 156, which would set up, construct, and fund the program, was brought before the Assembly and Senate last year. While Republican lawmakers held some reservations about the program over its need and cost, changes to the bill and expanding high-speed internet into more rural areas of the state won them over, with it eventually passing the Senate 39-0 and the Assembly 78-0 last year. In July of 2021, Governor Newsom then signed the bill into law.
“As we work to build California back stronger than before, the state is committed to addressing the challenges laid bare by the pandemic, including the digital divide holding back too many communities in a state renowned for its pioneering technology and innovation economy,” said Newsom at the bill signing last year. “This $6 billion investment will make broadband more accessible than ever before, expanding opportunity across the spectrum for students, families and businesses – from enhanced educational supports to job opportunities to health care and other essential services. I thank the Legislature for its partnership on this critically important step to ensuring that California’s economic recovery will leave no part of our state behind.”
According to the now-signed law, $3.25 billion is to go to to build, operate and maintain an open access, state-owned middle mile high-speed internet network, $2 billion to set up last-mile broadband connections that will connect homes and businesses with local networks, and $750 million is for a loan loss reserve fund to bolster the ability of local governments and nonprofits to secure financing for broadband infrastructure. SB 156 also set up a broadband czar position within the California Department of Technology, and a broadband advisory committee, to help work out the project.
The project, known as Broadband for All, spent the last year in planning before the groundbreaking on Friday. San Diego was ultimately chosen as the starting point due to it having many underserved communities and it being on the far end of the state.
In a statement, Newsom added “California is now one step closer to making the digital divide a thing of the past. We’re starting construction today to get affordable high-speed internet in every California home because livelihoods depend on equitable access to a reliable and fast internet connection. This is about ensuring that all Californians, no matter the zip code they call home, can be part of the Golden State’s thriving and diverse economy.”
While the groundbreaking, which added a total of 500 feet on Friday, was celebrated by many, others continued to be skeptical towards the project.
“A lot of people are hoping that this won’t be another boondoggle,” said Elise Sims, a community organizer who helps low-income Californians get internet access, to the Globe on Friday. “It’s good to bring the internet to everyone, but there are some real questions going into this. A lot of people are concerned that the $6.5 billion tag won’t go up even more. We all saw how much the high-speed rail program shot up in the past few decades. Who knows how many unexpected costs will come here? We already added $550 million to it earlier this year after all.”
“Also, a lot of people have been pushing more to wi-fi and other sources, so the state doing this even as technology improves, it may cause problems. Overall, it’s a lot to sink money into, and it will take some time to see if it is really worth it.”
The construction of the network is expected to take place throughout much of the 2020’s.
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