California Senators Upset Over Responses Received About Broadband Deployment

A California Senate committee received few details from the department charged with creating a public broadband program about its plans to expand into underserved neighborhoods.

The program faced criticism last year for prioritizing upscale cities, such as Beverly Hills, over impoverished and middle-class areas, such as South Central Los Angeles and Oakland, communities that lack high-speed Internet service.

California Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, D-Los Angeles, pressed Mark Monroe, deputy director of the California Department of Technology’s Middle-Mile Broadband Initiative, to provide concrete details on when projects would begin in underserved neighborhoods.

“I will remind you that the cuts made to the projects (when funding was cut in the wake of the fiscal year 2023 budget shortfall) were not equitable,” Smallwood-Cuevas said during a Senate Budget and Fiscal Review subcommittee hearing on the administration state and general policies. government.

“While 17% of funding was cut for the state network, 77% of those cuts were for South Central Los Angeles and Oakland, and another 56% of their half-mile needs were cut at that time.”

"We have no clarity on whether these communities will receive the help they need," California State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas said. "That is an unacceptable response."
“We are unclear about whether these communities will receive the help they need,” said California State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas. “That is an unacceptable response.”

Office of California State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas

Monroe responded that they are still trying to determine how the proposed cuts recently announced this year to broadband funding will affect the program, adding that they have just requested information on projects and are waiting for responses.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May revision to his budget proposal called for $2 billion in cuts to public broadband projects aimed at bringing high-speed Internet to all Californians and closing the digital divide.

The budget committees of both chambers are immersed in debates on various aspects of state government, many of them related to sharp cuts to close estimated $44.5 billion deficit. One of the budgets suffering cuts is the program designed to close the technology gap by providing high-speed Internet.

In 2021, as the state was experiencing a record surplus, Newsom signed a law dedicating $3.25 billion to building a public broadband network. The project requires 10,000 miles of fiber optic cable through the purchase of existing infrastructure and new construction.

The federal government has also made great efforts to help states provide more equitable access to the Internet. Last year, $42 billion was approved for the Biden administration to manage. Broadband Equitable Access and Deployment Programpart of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

Cuts in the May review include a $1.7 billion reduction in broadband infrastructure projections, $325 million in cuts to a fund for broadband projects supported by local governments, tribal governments and nonprofits profit in disadvantaged communities and a reduction of $34 million to equip libraries in rural and underserved areas. communities with high-speed internet.

Monroe told the committee he could not provide further details on which segments of the project are moving forward until July 19.

“It means you won’t be able to give us any more information until we’ve approved the budget,” Smallwood-Cuevas said.

Lawmakers must pass a budget by June 15, and Newsom has until July 1 to sign it.

“Now that we’re not getting the $1.5 billion, we’re going to have to reevaluate those 10,000 miles,” Monroe said.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has provided an update on its progress toward preconstruction, but “we just issued another request for information to find different partners and leases and are now evaluating all 50 proposals.”

“So after the budget is passed, we will know if our communities are in the Caltrans plan,” Smallwood-Cuevas said. “But we won’t have the details (for me personally, my district) of which was an excluded community, which the administration confirmed would be prioritized in this round of budget spending… You’re saying we won’t know until after the budget is passed. and then you have to wait and see, maybe?”

“Our intention remains to be able to reach those areas,” Monroe said, although he added that he won’t have more information until negotiations are completed in July or August.

Smallwood-Cuevas reminded Monroe that the goal of the program was to allow marginalized communities to continue with their daily lives.

“During the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, kids in my district had to do their homework at the nearest McDonald’s because they didn’t have internet at home,” she said.

Without the Internet, you can’t get virtual doctor appointments, apply for jobs or do homework, he said.

“We are not clear about whether these communities will receive the help they need,” Smallwood-Cuevas said. “That is an unacceptable response.”