A Public Benefit Foundation for the Digital Age
The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) has been on a mission over the last decade to forge partnerships and foster public policy to close the Digital Divide. This work has been strategically-focused, results-oriented, and people-centered. CETF has been guided by a Strategic Action Plan adopted by the Board of Directors in 2007 after reviewing existing research and gathering input statewide from community leaders about what works to advance Digital Inclusion. It was peer reviewed by more than 60 stakeholders convened by the California Foundation on the Environment and Economy. It became clear through this fact-finding and listening process that the challenges were too great and the state was too big for CETF alone to get the job done—CETF had to become a “catalyst for action” by setting overarching goals for broadband deployment and adoption and then enlisting existing civic leaders and community organizations to help achieve them. We had to align efforts and leverage resources.
CETF catalyzed action through 5 Overall Strategies: (1) Civic Leader Engagement; (2) Venture Philanthropy Grantmaking; (3) Public Policy Initiatives; (4) Public Awareness and Education; and (5) Strategic Partnerships. These 5 Overall Strategies are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. We dedicated more than half of the seed capital to grants for non-profit organizations in 3 priority communities: rural and remote areas; urban disadvantaged neighborhoods; and people with disabilities. Our network of more than 100 grantees delivered digital literacy training to more than 800,000 residents and got more than 250,000 low-income households online. In addition, this network leveraged CETF grant funds 4-fold, documenting more than $126 million in matching dollars. These community organizations have emerged as a reservoir of expertise for getting all Californians online to participate in the Digital Economy.
CETF also advanced groundbreaking policies and launched pioneering initiatives: secured the Governor’s Executive Order on Digital Literacy; designed and managed School2Home, scaling to 12 districts and 35 schools to serve more than 14,000 students and 600 teachers; founded and funded the California Telehealth Network; led several projects to connect residents in publicly subsidized complexes; and developed model policies for smart communities, including promoting broadband as a “green strategy” to reduce impacts on the environment. We pursued Strategic Partnerships with other institutions, such as collaborating with utilities to get their low-income customers online for energy efficiencies.
Once the Legislature and California Public Utilities Commission established the California Advanced Services Fund to support broadband infrastructure, CETF became the steady force to obtain sufficient funding and improve implementation, including sponsoring the Internet For All Now Act of 2017 to add $330 million for broadband deployment and adoption. And, after years of trying to negotiate voluntary affordable broadband offers from providers, we reluctantly became a legal party in the regulatory arenas to secure tangible public benefits for broadband deployment and adoption from corporate consolidations. We are further pleased to report that we have operated with financial discipline: independent annual audits show that CETF cumulative expenditures over the decade are 94% Program and 6% Support. CETF has been a Catalyst for Action: FOCUS; RESULTS; PEOPLE.