Internet for all NOW — A 21st Century Civil Right
California is beautiful and magnificent—and it is very big with a Digital Divide larger and more challenging than in any other state. Too many rural communities and productive farmlands lack broadband infrastructure to support adequate public safety and economic development. Too many urban residents in low-income neighborhoods lack affordable access to get ahead. That is why the California Emerging Technology Fund launched and leads Internet For All Now—a “call to action” for foundational public policy and essential resources to close the Digital Divide—to bridge the Economic Gulf and Opportunity Gap that plagues California with growing inequality. California’s future prosperity and quality of life hang in the balance.
For a decade, the California Emerging Technology Fund has endeavored diligently to fulfill its mission. Thanks to our spectacular spectrum of partners and extensive network of community-based organizations, we have deep and wide on-the-ground experience about “what works” to close the Digital Divide. The decision of the California Public Utilities Commission to establish CETF as a public benefit from corporate consolidations was a game-changer—it was trailblazing to found and fund an organization to become the Catalyst for Action. Success was driven by a FOCUS on outcomes that fostered a disciplined culture to achieve RESULTS powered by the engagement of PEOPLE—hence the presentation in this Decade Report. In fact, the CETF experience shows that California can tackle any major challenge and make significant headway in a relatively short period of time with leadership, commitment, and accountability.
Indeed, significant progress has been made in narrowing the Digital Divide in California over the last 10 years. However, the most disadvantaged populations still remain unconnected or underconnected. These residents also often are confronted with an interrelated set of factors and forces that constitute a huge barrier to overcome and escape—a “wall of poverty”—resulting in these households being left behind at an accelerating pace that stunts and stifles California’s global potential.
We are pleased to end the decade of work with the passage of the Internet For All Now Act of 2017—it provides a path forward, although much work remains to be done by the CPUC to implement the law and by the Legislature to address unresolved issues. We salute and commend the Legislature and Administration for their leadership. Going forward the quest for Digital Equity must be an integral part of a deeper commitment by policymakers and regulators to eliminate inequities and empower all Californians. Digital Inclusion must be incorporated into education, workforce preparation, healthcare, public housing, and the delivery of government services.
The potential of technology to provide equity in access to information, services, and participation in the democracy coupled with its power to transform lives for a better future makes Digital Inclusion a 21st Century Civil Right. To paraphrase a well-established principle of equality, “access delayed is access denied.” We invite you to join us as a champion of Internet For All Now.
Sunne Wright McPeak
President and CEO
California Emerging Technology Fund