Trailblazers of the 21st Century:
In Celebration of Women’s History Month CETF Honors Legislators Leading to Close the Digital Divide in California.

It is Women’s History Month and CETF is honored to celebrate women Legislators who are leading California into a 21st Century Digital world.  It is essential to highlight the remarkable contributions of women in shaping policies and legislation that aim to close the Digital Divide and work to foster Digital Equity through accessibility. This year, three visionary women legislators in California have introduced groundbreaking bills that epitomize the spirit of innovation, equity, and progress. Assemblymembers Akilah Weber, M.D., and Lori Wilson, and Senator María Elena Durazo are at the forefront of pioneering legislation aimed at transforming the landscapes of digital connectivity and its integration into health care access through Telehealth.  Sponsored by the California Emerging Technology Fund, these bills, AB1943 (Weber), AB1588 (Wilson), and SB1179 (Durazo)  reflect a commitment to ensuring that every Californian, regardless of their socio-economic status or geographic location, has access to essential affordable, quality, high-speed Internet to function fully in a digital society and enables access to healthcare services, such as Telehealth.

Assemblymember Akilah Weber, M.D. – AB1943: Telehealth for All Act

Dr. Weber has introduced AB1943, known as “Telehealth for All Act” targeting the enhancement of Telehealth services across California. This legislation addresses a critical gap in the current healthcare model by requiring the California Department of Health Care Services to gather comprehensive data on the effectiveness of Telehealth, especially for enrollees in the Medi-Cal Program.  AB1943 declares that it is the policy of the State of California to optimize the use of Telehealth to augment and enhance health and medical care for all residents – especially for medically-underserved populations – to improve individual patient outcomes and overall population health.

Dr. Weber’s legislation is a testament to her dedication to healthcare and addressing the nexus between health access, equity, and Digital Inclusion.  She recognizes first-hand as a physician, the complexities within the system that often leave the underserved behind. In a state as diverse and populous as California, AB1943 signifies a monumental step toward leveraging technology in the quest for Health Equity.

Assemblymember Lori Wilson – AB1588: Affordable Internet and Net Equality Act

Assemblymember Wilson has championed AB1588, the Affordable Internet and Net Equality Act of 2024, which ensures that California has a long-term strategy for California’s digitally disadvantaged communities to have access to affordable, quality, high-speed Internet.  It is a vital step to closing the Digital Divide in California.  AB1588 utilizes the robust purchasing power of the State of California by requiring that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) contract with the State continue to offer their own affordable high-speed Internet plans, regardless of subsidies – such as the federally funded and now halted Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

For many low-income families, the absence of affordable, high-speed Internet forces a difficult choice between essential Internet connectivity and other basic needs.  In the absence of an affordable Internet offer, the daily lives of low-income individuals are significantly hampered and impair their ability to participate in a 21st Century World.

In today’s Digital Era, Internet access is not just a tool but a fundamental necessity for economic and academic empowerment and progress.  Lack of access can lead to isolation from essential digital platforms, hindering civic participation, community interaction, and the ability to access a broad spectrum of public information and resources.  Assemblymember Wilson recognizes that this Digital Divide not only sustains a cycle of poverty but also restricts individuals’ potential to elevate their socio-economic status.

Senator María Elena Durazo – SB1179: Get Connected California Act

Senator María Elena Durazo’s introduction of the Get Connected California Act, or SB1179, is a complementary proposal to Assemblymember Wilson’s AB1588.  SB1179 marks a significant stride toward increasing awareness and enrollment in affordable Internet programs for low-income households.  The recent Statewide Digital Equity Survey found that nearly half of the eligible households in California are either unaware of or not participating in affordability plans like the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP) – emphasizing the need to raise awareness and promote affordable offers.  SB1179 sets goals to ensure that at least 95% of eligible households have affordable Internet access by 2029.  SB 1179 requires the California Department of Technology (CDT) to only enter into a procurement contract with a qualified Internet Service Provider (ISP) that offers affordable Internet service for eligible households.

Senator Durazo’s bill emphasizes the importance of partnership and advertising strategies to reach communities across linguistic and cultural barriers, ensuring that information about affordable Internet options is widely accessible. Her dedication to digital inclusivity and equity is a beacon of hope for millions of Californians who stand on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. Through SB1179, Senator Durazo is not just addressing a technological issue but is tackling social and economic disparities that affect educational opportunities, access to healthcare, and participation in the digital economy.

Commemorating Their Work During Women’s History Month

The legislative efforts of Assemblymembers Weber and Wilson, along with Senator Durazo, during Women’s History Month are not merely acts of policy making but are bold statements on the importance of inclusivity, equity, and the right to access essential services. These women legislators have taken on some of California’s most pressing challenges, reflecting the indomitable spirit of women who have historically been at the forefront of social change.

Their bills, sponsored by the California Emerging Technology Fund, are more than legislative texts; they are lifelines for millions of Californians who stand to benefit from more equitable healthcare access and digital connectivity.  Digital Access is a 21st Century Civil Right.  By focusing on the underserved and marginalized, these legislators are paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.

As we commemorate Women’s History Month, let us celebrate not only the historical achievements of women but also the ongoing efforts of women like Assemblymembers Weber and Wilson, and Senator Durazo who continue to break barriers and create a legacy of empowerment, equality, and access for all.