Broadband is now considered essential infrastructure for the 21st century. Schools, offices, retail, entertainment, medical and public services and governments all rely on online platforms, offering people significant time savings and a digital avenue for economic prosperity. However, broadband is still far from a universal service across the State. Within the SCAG region alone, approximately 15 percent of all households do not have access to adequate internet speeds or no internet access. These households are disproportionately located in underserved and urban communities and rural communities.
Access to universal subscription is attributed to a range of factors. Broadband is still considered to be relatively expensive, and studies regularly show prices as a significant barrier to broadband adoption. Many also lack digital skills – significantly 52% of adults are “relatively hesitant” when it comes to new technologies and digital skills, meaning they have low levels of digital skills or limited trust of the internet. Finally, there are still physical infrastructural gaps that provide another significant barrier for adoption.
On February 2, 2021, SCAG’s regional council adopted Resolution No. 21-629-2, which pledges SCAG to assist in bridging the digital divide in underserved communities. The resolution recognizes the digital divide and directs staff to develop a Broadband Action Plan and or Program. Since the adoption of the resolution, SCAG has identified several key items:
Collect and invest in broadband data and develop detailed broadband maps and broadband opportunity zones.
Assist in securing funding for local jurisdictions and ISPs to invest in broadband infrastructure in underserved communities.
Conduct studies to develop solutions and strategies to assist in rapid deployment of broadband technology and technical studies which evaluates the benefits of broadband (i.e., VMT reduction).
SCAG is committed to helping its 191 cities and six counties bridge the digital divide and increase broadband access in underserved communities throughout Southern California. For further information about SCAG’s broadband efforts and other resources, please see below.
State and Federal Initiatives and Funding Resources
Local Agency Technical Assistance Grants
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) established the Local Agency Technical Assistance (LATA) grant program for eligible pre-construction work facilitating broadband network projects to areas in need. The program has a $50 million budget for eligible local agencies and tribal entities in California, including $5 million set aside for tribes.
The LATA program will begin accepting grant applications on August 1, 2022. The grants will be awarded on an ongoing basis with no set application deadline. Eligible Local Agencies can apply for up to $500,000 for over-the-counter CPUC Staff (ministerial) approval, and up to $1 million if CPUC staff agrees with Grant proposal and then submits it to the CPUC Commission for approval at a voting meeting.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. This benefit helps to ensure households can afford the broadband they need for work, school, healthcare and more. For more information please visit: www.fcc.gov/acp.
Statewide Open-Access Middle-Mile Network
Signed into law in July 2021, SB 156 invests $6 billion statewide over three years to expand broadband infrastructure, improve affordability, and enhance access to broadband for all Californians. This includes the construction of a $3.25 billion state-owned open-access middle-mile broadband network. In November 2021, the California Department of Technology announced a significant investment in broadband infrastructure, identifying 18 initial broadband projects statewide and four corridors in the SCAG region. For more information please visit: https://cdt.ca.gov/middle-mile-advisory-committee/middle-mile-initial-project-locations/
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)
With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress has taken a significant step forward in achieving the Administration’s goal of providing broadband access to the entire country. The IIJA sets forth a $65 billion investment into broadband, for which $48.2 billion will be administered by NTIA’s newly established Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. This investment will leverage NTIA’s experience in promoting broadband infrastructure development and digital inclusion efforts through its Broadband USA initiative as well as current grant programs, including the Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP), and the Connecting Minority Communities (CMC) Pilot Program. Additionally, this investment will enhance other, established Federal broadband initiatives offered through the U.S. Treasury, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). For more information please visit: https://broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov/
Partnership to Close the Digital Divide
SCAG and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) conducted a joint request for qualifications to seek partnerships to deploy broadband infrastructure and provide high-quality and affordable broadband service to residents, businesses, public agencies, educational institutions, and tribes in the Southern California region. Selected firms will be short-listed and may co-author grant applications with SCAG and SANDAG to obtain funding for broadband projects. For more information on this competitive process, contact Roland Ok at Ok@Scag.ca.gov and Krystal Ayala at firstname.lastname@example.org.