Broadband Funding Opportunities

Regional collaboration and a once-in-a-lifetime infusion of funding from the state and the federal government could address those inadequacies and finally close those gaps.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal calls for $7 billion in broadband infrastructure investment. As part of that proposal, $4 billion would build a statewide open-access middle-mile network that would make high-speed broadband accessible to all areas of California.

Middle-mile fiber serves as the basic infrastructure from which internet service providers (ISPs) build connections to end-users. Though it does not provide direct connectivity to businesses and consumers, an open-access middle-mile network is the first step to bringing our infrastructure up to date, ready to handle the throughput required for 21st-century tasks. Local government and non-profit leaders from across the state have joined together to support the proposal. It remains to be seen how the Governor’s proposal will get implemented through the budget process over the next couple of weeks.

In addition, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in March, has infused state and local governments with $350 billion in relief funds for a variety of purposes including broadband. In the Monterey Bay region, that funding equals a combined $280 million, creating an amazingly rare opportunity to finally make high-speed connectivity an affordable, accessible reality. MBEP and our partner organization Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) have been working closely with cities and our three counties to develop implementation plans for the ARPA funds and ensure that we focus on the areas most in need in the region. Unlike the Governor’s proposal, these funds will be allocated to last-mile infrastructure, meaning connections to the home or business.

Significant Investment Needed

Closing the region’s digital divide isn’t cheap: Building middle-mile fiber costs between $250,000 and $500,000 per mile, and the only way to achieve the greatest reach of last-mile high-speed internet service will be to incorporate multiple technologies — fiber, fixed wireless, satellite, etc. — depending on the geographical area. This will cost millions of dollars in addition to the middle-mile fiber. MBEP and CCBC convened regional leaders in 2018 to review research on the minimum speeds that meet the needs of our residents. Based on this research, our team established a regional standard of 100 Mbps download / 20 Mbps upload minimum speeds. For all last-mile projects we orchestrate with ISPs, governments, and funders, this is the minimum required bandwidth. (Note that the State of California and the FCC have set other standards.)

Another consideration is affordability. Those who have access to high-speed service, particularly in remote areas, may not be able to afford the $100 per month (or higher) service fees.
News courtesy of California ForwardGood Times Santa Cruz