Billions of dollars coming for broadband upgrades, seeking to bridge the digital divide for North Coast residents

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Broadband “helps students stay engaged in their schoolwork” and “allows local businesses to grow,” he said.

No specific project has been identified for federal funding, which will be allocated by state officials.

Governor Gavin Newsom last month announced the first 18 projects – spanning length from Siskiyou state to San Diego County – funded by California’s multi-year investment in broadband internet.

“California is committed to addressing the challenges exposed by the pandemic, including the digital divide that is holding back too many communities across the state,” he said in a press release.

State Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said in a Tweeter it was the “largest broadband Internet project in US history.”

The Mendocino-Lake project would install high-capacity Internet lines serving Upper Lake, Kelseyville and Robinson Rancheria in Lake County and Laughlin in Mendocino County.

“Hundreds of thousands of people here at home in Lake County and across the North Coast are on the wrong side of the digital divide,” McGuire said. “This is about to change.”

In Sonoma County, 94% of 206,097 homes have broadband, according to PUC data, but there are significant gaps.

“The challenges lie in western Sonoma County,” said Dane Jasper, CEO and co-founder of Santa Rosa-based Sonic, Northern California’s largest independent Internet service provider.

The problem there and along much of the coast is that providers are reluctant to run cables over miles of sparsely populated areas to serve a limited number of customers with little economic return, he said. declared.

Huffman cited broadband gaps in western Marin County and “huge pockets” of no service on the coast of Mendocino County and communities such as Willits and Laytonville.

Starlink, a provider using low-orbiting satellites, can provide “pretty good” internet anywhere, but the monthly fees and equipment are expensive, Jasper said.

California’s $ 6 billion expansion program is expected to “solve a lot of the availability issue,” he said, but “the other big deal is affordability.”

Broadband is widely available in most urban areas, but about 20% of households don’t subscribe, mainly because they can’t afford it, Jasper said.

Federal infrastructure funding allocates $ 14.2 billion nationwide to provide a $ 30-per-month voucher for low-income people to pay for Internet service. A White House report said 10.6 million Californians – 27% of the population – would be eligible for the rebate program.

The vouchers would be “the biggest improvement in technological fairness,” said Steve Herrington, the superintendent of schools for Sonoma County. “You can have broadband, but many low-income families can’t afford it. “

Closures from the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting schools to suddenly switch to distance learning, have brought California’s digital divide “out of the shadows and at the forefront of public policy,” the room reported. CalMatters nonprofit online news release in April.

One in five California households with Kindergarten to Grade 12 students told the Census Bureau in March that they did not always have the Internet access needed for a virtual school, according to the report.

Back in the classroom, students still depend on Internet connections for learning. “You don’t do your homework in a book,” Herrington said.

The internet has largely replaced textbooks, a benefit because teaching materials can be constantly updated, he said.

Judy Sakaki, president of Sonoma State University, told a press conference hosted by Thompson last week that broadband expansion “really matters” to higher education in the state. and on its Rohnert Park campus.

Broadband allows SSU to connect with students in Mendocino and Lake counties, she said.

In an area recently plagued by wildfires, floods and windstorms, the internet is increasingly important for disaster response, said Chris Godley, director of emergency management for Sonoma County. .

Situational awareness, emergency alerts and first responder communications depend on wireless and wired broadband systems, he said.



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