Digital Equity Legislation Continues to Make Gains in California

Two recent victories in digital equity work out of California give cause for celebration this week. AB 2748 Telecommunications: Digital Equity in Video Franchising Act and AB 2751 Affordable Internet and Net Equality Act both passed the Communications and Conveyance Committees this week; the former by a margin of 10-3 and the latter 7-3.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Chris Holden, AB 2748 would have a range of impacts if passed, including  giving the state CPUC and local governments more power in negoitating with providers to ensure that there is no discimination based on neighborhood household income that leads to inequitable access to service. It also revises franchise fee agreements at the local level. Read the full bill analysis for more.

From the press release:

"Although DIVCA originally intended to address inequitable broadband access, it remains pronounced across California cities," says Shayna Englin, Director of the California Community Foundation Digital Equity Initiative. "AB 2748 modernizes DIVCA by establishing equal access requirements as policy, and makes them enforceable through a reasonable application process for franchise renewals. We are pleased to co-sponsor Assemblymember Holden's bill, as the legislation will bring us one step closer to ensuring every Californian has access to fast, reliable, and affordable Internet [access]."

AB 2751 would create a Net Equality Program which would require that most state agencies only do business with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that have a low-income plan offering of $40/month for 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps). Read the full bill analysis for more.

Public testimony for AB 2751 highlighted the significant disparity in service speeds and prices that disadvantage low-income Californians by the state's two monopoly providers: Charter Spectrum and AT&T:

AB2751 is a modest but vital step toward leveraging the state’s massive purchasing power to incentivize ISPs to extend service at least approaching the good deals they offer our wealthiest communities to our highest need, historically most neglected communities.

In Beverly Hills 90210, one of the highest income ZIP codes in the state, Charter Spectrum offers 400Mbps Internet Ultra service for $45/month. A half hour drive away, in the high poverty Los Angeles neighborhood of Westlake, Charter Spectrum charges $70/month for the same 400Mbps service.

In Orange County, Charter Spectrum offers residents of a very low-poverty census block in Fullerton [its] Internet Ultra 400Mbps [service] for $40/month. About a mile away, in a high-poverty census block in Buena Park, they charge $70/month for that same service.

San Diego County’s Oceanside is in AT&T’s service area, where it offers residents in one of the highest poverty census blocks “Internet Basic 1.5,” with speeds of up to 1Mbps (which is not technically broadband) for $55/month. Five miles away, in one of Oceanside’s lowest poverty census blocks, the same $55/month buys AT&T’s “Internet 75” [service] with speeds up to 75Mbps.

2751 was opposed by an array of organizations and trade associations, including the CTIA.

Both bills have been passed on to the Committee on Appropriations.