SB 1040

Plan To Expand Broadband Access Gets Preliminary Approval

An ambitious proposal to expand broadband access to rural underserved regions of the San Joaquin Valley has received conditional funding approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, and could get the formal OK Dec. 1.

The grant proposal by The San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium (SJVRBC) requested $150,000 for the first year, with the possibility of renewal for a second and third year. The Valley proposal was one of seven that received the highest scores upon review. Fifteen regional groups filed applications for funding last August.

The Valley Regional Broadband Consortium is under the umbrella of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, and is administered by the Office of Community and Economic Development at California State University, Fresno, with assistance from the Great Valley Center.

The Valley's program's goals include: Expand broadband access from Kern to San Joaquin counties, bridging the so-called "digital divide" in areas with limited access; develop a program that ensures high school students graduate with basic computer literacy skills; design a telehealth plan that connects clinics with medical centers; and work with neighboring consortia to develop a cohesive infrastructure.

Increased broadband access also facilitates development of the SmartGrid, which enables homeowners to monitor energy usage in real time - and adjust usage patterns accordingly. That saves homeowners money and aids in conservation efforts.

The grant comes from SB 1040, which was signed last year and expands the California Advanced Services Fund. The fund, operated by the Public Utilities Commission, allocates $125 million for the broadband program, and for a capital infrastructure revolving loan fund.

Improved broadband access is a necessity for California's global competitiveness, and is considered an essential part of the 21st Century infrastructure. Individuals without broadband connections are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding jobs, gaining skills and getting health care. An estimated 16 percent of Californians, most of them in rural areas, don't use the Internet.

The other broadband applications to go before the commission next month include a Central Coast group in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties; an East Bay consortium in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties; a group in Los Angeles County; and three in far Northern California.