More High Speed Internet: Board Advances Lawson-Remer's Broadband Streaming Proposal
A proposal from Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer to expand access to high-speed internet was approved by the County Board of Supervisors today.
Without this push to speed up broadband projects, San Diego County may have a harder time meeting requirements to qualify for the unprecedented amount of federal funding made available for broadband investment during the pandemic.
“San Diegans rely on digital connections for everyday basics like attending school, working remotely, accessing healthcare, and connecting with loved ones — highlighting the essential need for all to have access to efficient broadband networks,” said Supervisor Lawson-Remer, Vice Chair of the Board of Supervisors. “This effort will help to close the digital divide by expediting broadband projects and providing faster and more efficient internet service to areas that have historically had challenges receiving them.”
The Board voted to direct the County’s Chief Administrative Officer to engage with Internet service providers and regional broadband stakeholders to develop options to streamline processes and expedite the review and approval of new broadband-related projects, and report back with recommendations within 120 days.
While having reliable internet has become an integral and essential part of life, there are barriers to achieving digital equity and universal access. The Comprehensive Broadband Plan created by the County has helped to identify many census tracts that are considered to be “internet deserts.” These communities lack access to affordable and reliable Broadband high-speed internet. This digital divide has disproportionately impacted people of color, households that are lower-income, and those that are living in unincorporated and rural areas.
With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021, $42.5 billion in funding was allocated for the deployment of last-mile broadband connectivity to every unserved and underserved household and business across the United States. Of this, $1.86 billion was dedicated to the State of California through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. To qualify for funding, projects must be completed within 18 to 24 months if the project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.
Broadband project permitting issues can be similar to other permitting delays, with months of plan review, comments and revisions prior to project approval. These delays can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and increase the risk that inflation will drive up the costs of building materials and labor.
While the County currently has a Self- Certification program in place for faster timelines as it relates to Broadband project maintenance needs if a provider opts into the County’s program annually, it does not currently have a strategy to speed up the construction of new broadband projects.