A bill designed to bridge the digital divide in rural and underserved communities throughout the state by increasing broadband access has been passed by the California legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

SB 28 was authored by State Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), whose district includes Gustine and Newman. 

Caballero said the bill was one of her legislative priorities and that she authored the bill at the request of residents who live in rural, disenfranchised communities who “suffer greatly because of the lack of high speed, reliable internet service.”

SB 28, Rural Broadband and DIVCA Reform Act of 2021, provides a path for the state to gain important details about digital network infrastructure by amending a 15-year-old statute called the Digital Video Infrastructure and Competition Act of 2006. That statute authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission to issue a lucrative statewide 10-year franchise to companies like cable and telecommunication companies to build digital networks across the state for the delivery of pay video services.

Many of these companies have been able to utilize local easements and rights of ways to build their infrastructure, but Caballero said the investments have not extended to those in rural and low income areas.

“My bill enables the state to request granular data from companies, like specific connection locations, and provides the CPUC with customer service review of these pay video services,” said Caballero. “These companies need to meet the obligations they made in 2006 when the Digital Video Infrastructure and Competition Act was enacted, to provide advanced digital services equitably, without income-based discrimination. SB 28 will ensure that vital infrastructure, owned and operated by media giants will not remain shrouded in mystery. It’s an important first step to ensure the digital connections to California homes and businesses serve everybody.”

Caballero said that these companies may provide service to just one house in a certain census track, but will report service to the entire tract.

“It has been unfairly deployed to communities,” Caballero said.

The disadvantage of not having reliable and quick broadbrand and streaming services became apparent when many people had to work from home and people had to attend classes online.

Maria and Gerzayr Alapizco of Gustine experienced the disadvantage firsthand last year. Their home is just outside of Gustine limits and in order for them to get reliable internet service, they have to travel to a park in Gustine and do their work inside their vehicle. Their son, who is in college had to spend long days and nights in his vehicle parked at the park, sometimes in intolerable heat or cold.

Caballero said SB 28 is just the first step in expanding the broadband access to rural areas.

“We hope this marks a turning point,” she said.