Rachelle Chong Testimony Promotes California Broadband Plan at Congressional Hearing

Testimony of Rachelle Chong
Special Counsel, Advanced Information and Communications Technology,
Office of the Chief Information Officer, State of California
Before Congress of the United States, House of Representatives,
May 13, 2010 -10 AM

It is a great honor and pleasure to be back in Washington D.C. It is even more of a pleasure that your topic today is broadband adoption and awareness, a vitally important area that is pivotal to bridging the Digital Divide.

The Digital Divide cannot be closed without California. We have 44,000 square miles of unserved area, the size of Kentucky. We have 1.4 million rural residents without access, the population of Maine. We have 12.9 million urban residents not connected, the population of Illinois. We have 1.9 million people with disabilities not connected, the population of New Mexico. We have 68,000 Native Americans not connected, the population of Alaska. So the number of “unconnected” Californians on the other side of the Digitai Divide is the equivalent to having five other states inside our boundaries. This is why California has been working with great focus and effort on broadband adoption since 2006.

California was early to develop a cohesive policy to spur broadband innovation in our state. Beginning in 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger issued a Broadband Executive Order and formed a Broadband Task Force on which I was honored to serve. The Task Force performed broadband mapping to identify where broadband was -and where it wasn’t -in our geographically large state. Our Legislature passed a Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 to allow telephone companies to offer video for the first time, and for cable providers to obtain a statewide video franchise and relieve them from burdensome local franchise obligations. The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) updated outdated telephone rules to allow our largest incumbent phone companies to compete on a level playing field with its new competitors, the cable, satellite and wireless companies. In summary, California set the table for broadband prOViders to come to dinner and feed our State’s broadband hunger.

California attacked two main problems: (1) lack of broadband infrastructure and (2) broadband adoption and awareness. I won’t talk about infrastructure much today, but the California PUC established a state infrastructure grant program to fill in unserved and underserved areas. This fund has been successful in filling in some of our infrastructure gaps, and the Broadband ARRA funds are very welcome to assist us in that effort. Further, California received an FCC Rural Health Care Pilot Program grant of $22 million, matched it with another $8 million from non federal sources, and is now beginning construction this summer on a statewide broadband tele-health network. We believe this 863 site tele­health network will push broadband infrastructure into many of our neediest rural areas and help bring access to more Californians.

“If you build it, they will come” may apply in baseball’s field of dreams, but it does not apply to broadband. Once we get broadband access to our residents and businesses, California realized that it did not mean our people would use it. Who had access to broadband but wasn’t using it? Why weren’t they using it? In 2006, the California PUC formed a non-profit organization, the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), to assist us in broadband adoption and awareness work. After research, we identified the following groups that were on the wrong side of the Digital Divide: Latino families, low income families, people with disabilities, and rural and remote communities with no access or very little access. We made these groups the focus of our broadband adoption and awareness efforts.

There are five overarching strategic actions that we have used to bridge the Digital Divide in California. They are:

• Civic Leader Engagement
• Venture Philosophy Engagement
• Public Policy Initiatives
• Public Awareness
• Strategic Partnerships

Civic Leader Engagement

First, we have engaged civic leaders and elected officials to urge residents to “Get Connected”. For our rural and remote communities, we found community leaders from seven rural regional consortia covering 3S counties. We have helped these rural groups to aggregate demand, encourage broadband deployment in their area, and to support applications like telemedicine and eGovernment. Similarly in our urban underserved areas, we located community leaders to form an urban collaborative to help them develop strategies and programs to bring broadband to their neediest residents.

Venture Philosophy Engagement

Second, we have used Venture Philosophy Grantmaking, meaning we choose S2 non profit and community-based organizations with experience in technology related programs area to reach into our most vulnerable communities and perform broadband awareness and adoption work. We hold these groups to rigorous measures of performance and support them with a matching grant and annual best practices meetings.

Public Policy Initiatives

Third, we used public policy initiatives to quicken broadband adoption. One of our most significant is the California Telehealth Network, which I previously mentioned. We believe the California Telehealth Network will transform health care in our state, particularly in rural areas. Major Issues that need to be addressed to make telehealth successful include changing reimbursement policies for doctor services via telemedicine, immediate FCC reform of the existing Internet Access Fund with a new Health Care Broadband Access fund as set forth in Chapter 10 of the FCC National Broadband Plan, and ensuring customer privacy of medical records through secure and interoperable systems.

A. School2Home

Another major initiative launched by CETF and The Children’s Partnership has been our School2Home program. School2Home is an innovative statewide program to close both the Achievement Gap and the Digital Divide by integrating the use of laptop computers and broadband technology into teaching and learning at 539 low performing middle schools throughout Caiifornia. These low performing schools serve high percentages of students of color from iow income households, the two demographic groups most at risk of low achievement and failure to graduate from high school. By focusing on these schools, 5chool2Home targets students who are statistically less iikely to perform well in school and more iikely to lack access to home digital tools than their peers in high performing schools.

The program has three goals: (1) Increase digital iiteracy and educational performance among targeted low performing middle schools; (2) Improve their 21″ Century skills so they can contribute to a more competitive workforce upon graduation; and (3) Get parents involved in by home-based digital technologies and in turn expand broadband adoption.

Computer programs have been done before and some computers ended up in closets because teachers would not integrate them into schoolwork or the PC style computers had to be shared. In 5chool2Home, portable laptop computers are used and home broadband connectivity is emphasized. We want the laptops to go home with the child, so that homework can be done and Internet research performed. Further, the low income family gains computer access for other urgent needs like healthcare information, the ability to apply for a job on the Web, and using Voice Over Internet Protocol to stay connected to loved ones abroad. 5chool2Home emphasizes parental involvement, including six hours of required parental training so that the parent can use the computer to interact with their child’s teachers and school to check on progress. Teachers are also trained to engage their students in interactive lessons using the computers.

School2Home Program components:

• School leaders assess technology needs and develop their plan.
• All students receive a computer device for classroom and home use.
• Classroom technology like SMART boards, digital projectors, printers/scanners and document cameras enhance the functionaiity of the computing devices used by teachers and students.
• All teachers receive 24 hours of professional development focused on incorporating technology into classroom instruction and communication with parents.
• Technology coaches at each school site provide real time embedded professional development and teacher support.
• A student technology program allows students to earn digital iiteracy certificates and help provide basic school site tech support to their families, teachers and fellow students.

We have two schools beta testing all program components now, and 25 schools preparing for participation next school year. We have a seven year timeframe to try and reach all 539 middle schools. We will reach 52,000 students, 78,000 parents, 3,100 teachers, and 250 principals and other school executives in the first 3 years.

B. Smart Housing

Another pubiic policy initiative we are working on is Smart Housing. For some reason, the FCC inadvertently left this out of the National Broadband Plan recommendations. Smart Housing is defined as a publicly funded housing development project that possesses an independent Advanced Communications Network to drive economies of scale that can result in a significantly reduced cost basis for residents. This Advanced Communications Network is in addition to standard cable and infrastructure used for power, television and telephone service. A model policy has been developed, and CETF and the California Department of Housing and Community Development jointly requested that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) amend federal policies and regulations to support Smart Housing.

C. Smart Communities

We have also been promoting “smart communities.” An example of this is our work with our State
Librarian to promote libraries as hubs for digital literacy and wireless “hot spots” -both inside and outside the library -for its users. Another example is CETF’s summary and analysis of government led wireless projects, to help communities who are thinking of setting up community WiFi initiatives. Work has also been done looking at forward looking local government policies relating to broadband and promulgating a comprehensive sample policy as a resource for local and regional government leaders.

Public Awareness

Fourth, we use Public Awareness and Education campaigns to enhance our Broadband Awareness. Our major effort here is our “Get Connected” Campaign. CETF launched this “Get Connected” campaign to increase adoption among low income and Latino households by 10 percentage points. A website in several languages -English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese -help non users learn the basics about computers and broadband. Public service announcements in several languages were developed and are aired in ethnic media and at Community Connect Fairs in target neighborhoods. The message is simple: Broadband makes your life easier.

Strategic Partnerships

Fifth, all of this broadband awareness work has been done with $60 million of seed money for CETF. This could only be done with strategic partnerships with government, foundations, universities, broadband providers, Internet companies, and employers to joint venture on major projects like the California Telehealth Network, Smart Housing, School2Home, and “Get Connected.”

Finally, how do we know these broadband adoption programs work? We partner with Public Policy Institute of California and ZeroDivide to measure and track our broadband adoption statistics to measure progress. So far, looking at our 2008 to 2009 date, we are very encouraged by the trends we see.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide information to the Committee. Ilook forward to answering any questions you may have.

The Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet held the fourth in a series of hearings addressing issues raised in the National Broadband Plan on Thursday, May 13, 2010. The hearing, entitled “The National Broadband Plan: Promoting Broadband Adoption,” examined recommendations in the National Broadband Plan for increasing broadband adoption, including ways to ensure that all Americans are able to subscribe to broadband and ways to educate consumers about broadband’s benefits.


Carol Mattey, Deputy Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
Rachelle Chong, Special Counsel, Office of the Chief Information Officer, State of California
Rivkah Sass, Director, Sacramento Public Library System
C. Howie Hodges II, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, One Economy
Laura Taylor, Chief Policy Officer, Connected Nation