SACRAMENTO, CA – AB 1665, Joint-Authored by several bipartisan Assemblymembers, including Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Winters), Eduardo Garcia (D – Coachella), and Brian Dahle (R – Bieber), was approved on the Senate Floor Wednesday before heading back to the Assembly for concurrence on Friday. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses. This bill is the result of the successful negotiation of a $330 million bill package to expand broadband access and digital literacy in communities deprived of a reliable internet connection.
Several past efforts to increase funding to close the connectivity gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” known as the “Digital Divide,” were intensely opposed by the largest telecommunications and cable companies. After a three-year stalemate, this bill represents a cooperative effort between legislators of both houses and both parties, consumer advocates, and representatives from the telecommunications and cable industries to invest in broadband access and rural development.
“After years of failed efforts, I am proud that our group was finally able to break through,” said Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry. “I’ve been working on this issue as a local official for over a decade. I’ve watched families get their first email address, and farmworkers finally able to talk to their kids’ teachers despite their long work hours. I’ve witnessed how internet access can transform a community. AB 1665 will transform communities across California.”
The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is a state program aimed at closing the Digital Divide. The CASF does not depend upon General Fund dollars, but instead is funded by a small, existing surcharge on in-state phone bills. The current goal of this program is to incentivize the expansion of broadband infrastructure to 98% of California households. AB 1665 expands this goal to 98% of households in every geographic region of the state. This new goal creates a target that cannot be achieved by serving urban and suburban areas alone; it will ensure broadband infrastructure projects funded by AB 1665 are focused in rural California.
Assemblymember Dahle said, “I am happy my colleagues supported AB 1665 and took this important step towards getting much needed internet service to historically unserved and underserved communities across the state. This bill will provide services to rural areas of the state that have long been forgotten, or seen as too difficult and remote to provide service. I am proud to be a part of this bipartisan effort to close the Digital Divide and bring rural regions of our state up to speed.”
Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia added, “Legislative success for the ‘Internet for All Now Act of 2017’ will help increase connectivity to Californians stuck on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. This feat is attributed to the dedicated efforts of our bipartisan coalition of coauthors, who rallied together from all corners of our state to rectify our broadband infrastructure shortfall. Internet access has become a passport to health, economic, and educational opportunities. By extending funding into the California Advanced Services Fund we can provide access to this modern day necessity for our state’s most vulnerable communities.”
AB 1665 passed with a vote of 36 – 2 on the Senate Floor before receiving a final 68 – 8 vote of approval in the Assembly. In a rare display, a group of Assemblymembers formed behind the joint-authors to stand with them in support as the vote took place. AB 1665 is now on the Governor’s desk, where the joint-authors will fight to ensure the bill is signed into law.
“I want to thank Communications and Conveyance Committee Chairman Miguel Santiago for helping convene an extensive stakeholder process, which ultimately led to our successful effort,” said Aguiar-Curry. “This is 2017. In today’s global economy, having internet access is not an option; it is a necessity. People don’t start businesses in areas where they can’t even send an email. When we invest in providing internet for all, we are investing in education for all, access to health care for all, and economic development for every community in our State.”
Aguiar-Curry represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes all of Lake and Napa Counties, parts of Colusa, Solano and Sonoma Counties, and all of Yolo County except West Sacramento.