Thursday, 02 February 2023

Broadband connectivity bill advances

SACRAMENTO – Legislation from Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, that would greatly improve internet connectivity by removing local government roadblocks to the expansion of broadband service — especially in low-income and underserved communities — passed its final policy committee on Wednesday on its way to the Assembly floor.

“Californians are now a step closer gaining more reliable and equitable access to high-speed internet service,” Sen. Dodd said. “This is so important when families are relying more on the internet for remote school and work. I applaud committee members for taking this action to remove unnecessary delays and help close the digital divide.”

The approval of Senate Bill 556, or the California Connectivity Act, follows the recent passage of the state’s $262.6 billion budget, which includes $6 billion for broadband expansion.

SB 556 would make high-speed internet more widely available for schools and businesses by removing local discretion to put hurdles before small cell deployment – something that is critical for reliable high-speed internet.

It builds on existing law setting timelines and reasonable fees for processing and approving broadband projects.

The bill was introduced as employers and schools across the state have shifted to virtual participation, highlighting disparities of access faced by low-income families and people of color.

Nearly 42% of California families said unreliable internet access was a challenge for them during distance learning according to a recent poll by Ed Source and FM3 Research.

Sen. Dodd’s proposal is widely supported by businesses, schools and equity groups. It passed the Assembly Communications and Conveyance committee with overwhelming support.

The bill, previously approved by the full Senate, will now go to Assembly Appropriations before a final vote on the Assembly floor.

“SB 556 is a long-term solution to remove barriers and expand deployment of wireless infrastructure, ensuring that families have options in affordability and service for accessing education, health and more,” said Sara Bachez of the California Association of School Business Officials. “This critical legislation will help school districts across California increase broadband access and services for students, families and staff as we continue to provide online learning opportunities.”

“This bill provides a framework for 5G deployment for the benefit of both our community as well as the overall state of California,” wrote the leaders of Tech Latino, a network of 15 nonprofit advocacy groups, in a support letter. “We would like to ensure that Latinos will be a part of the smart and connected society of the future. We strongly support enactment of SB 556 to ensure the efficient deployment of the next generation of wireless infrastructure.”

Dodd represents the Third Senate District, which includes all or portions of Napa, Solano, Yolo, Sonoma, Contra Costa, and Sacramento counties. For more information visit his website.

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