Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Los Angeles County and California Are Building A Broadband Future – Episode 502 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Shayna Englin, Director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation. During the conversation, the two talk about Shayna’s work with the Digital Equity Initiative, how their coalition brought about recent wins for community broadband in LA County, and what’s next in the fight to build a community-owned fiber network there.
They discuss the political realities faced by activists pursuing community broadband, and get into the nitty gritty of working within a massive bureaucracy. Zooming out, Shayna highlights exciting updates on California’s broadband spending, and specific projects with the potential to transform connectivity throughout the state.
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Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Shayna Englin (00:07):
The notion that the county has signed on to go in that direction. To have county owned assets at any scale that encompasses a fiber to the home system is new and a huge win.
Christopher Mitchell (00:22):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul, Minnesota. And I'm speaking with Shayna England, the director of the Digital Equity Initiative at C C F, which is the California Community Foundation. Welcome to the show Shayna.
Shayna Englin (00:44):
Thank you, Chris. Excited. I feel a little bit like a, like a celebrity, cuz I've been listening to so many of these podcasts.
Christopher Mitchell (00:51):
I was just gonna say, you're totally unfamiliar with the format, <laugh>
Shayna Englin (00:53):
<laugh> Shayna, you and I have been I think in in frequent contact. You're doing great work in California. We're trying to support it trying to help you out in some ways, also learning a lot about what's possible and, and I'm definitely outsourcing my California brain to you and trying to understand some of this stuff rather than just diving in and, and reading all the rules myself, which I should be doing. But just, just, there's no time for it. So but let me ask you, this is tele, you're not one of the new people in telecom. you're one of those folks that I think was in it and then you took a little hiatus and now you're back cuz it's the best thing ever. But you know, tell us your backstory quick
Because it's like the mob, once you're in, you can't get out. Yeah, no, I, I've been working on broadband issues off and on since 2005. So what is that? 17 years. and really always in the context of, I started as a community organizer and then did political campaigns and then really was working at the intersection of tech and, and politics and civic engagement. And so either directly or indirectly have kind of been engaging on this connectivity issue for the better part of my career.
Christopher Mitchell (02:07):
And you've also been thinking about communications and that's, I think technically what your, your LinkedIn profile might say, right?
Shayna Englin (02:13):
<laugh>? I don't know. I should go check what my LinkedIn profile says. <laugh>, it should say something like strategic campaigns or, right, like on on LinkedIn, it has to say strategic somewhere. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. yeah, I do campaigns and, and I think a lot of times what that means is, is thinking about comms in all the various ways.
Christopher Mitchell (02:34):
so I think, you know, they say if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with a big group, you're, you're not with a big group. you're, you're doing interesting work. You're putting together a, a really great effort there with different groups working together in, in LA County. what are you doing at the California Community Foundation?
Shayna Englin (02:53):
So, the Digital Equity Initiative is as far as I can tell, a very project that I am so lucky to lead that is putting resources towards building and seeding an ecosystem of digital equity champions. and really also including within that, the access and infrastructure component of this question. So we have set out to, through grant making, public education, engaging in advocacy, kind of pulling in national, state and other local networks and experts like yourself and, and your colleagues there, <laugh> into really building community power around this issue. And so we've got education organizations, healthcare organizations we have climate justice. We are about to pull in a big immigration organizing group that are interested in figuring out how to work together to address this kind of really cross-sectoral equity issue.
Christopher Mitchell (03:55):
Are there any signs that it's working
Shayna Englin (03:58):
So many <laugh>?
Christopher Mitchell (04:01):
Has your house been been a target of arson
Shayna Englin (04:04):
<laugh>? not, not yet.
Christopher Mitchell (04:07):
No. Now, now you about
Shayna Englin (04:08):
It though. <laugh> Uhoh. no, but every time our internet goes out when we're watching Netflix, he blames me. <laugh>? Yeah, I mean, we had really, back in August we had what I would call the first of what have been many, in some cases surprising, but exciting wins. So we have the LA Deal, which the, it's the LA Digital Equity Action League which is a regional broadband consortium which is a, an officially sanctioned, appointed funded organization of the California Public Utilities Commission that is intended to connect local communities, municipalities with the funding programs that are available through the, the Public Utilities Commission.
Christopher Mitchell (04:54):
California, like has a bunch of of money that it collects to deal with inequities in telecom. And that's dealt with through the California Public Utilities Commission, which created the California Advanced Services Fund that's involved with that. Yes. And they created these, they the idea of these regional groups that would then help to make sure that people actually knew how to use this money and access it. And that's what we're talking about here.
Shayna Englin (05:19):
Yes. Thank you for backing up. Yeah. Through the, the California Advanced Services Fund is is funded by fees through various telecom, and then that itself is split into a whole bunch of accounts. and one of them is this regional broadband consortium account.
Christopher Mitchell (05:33):
Unless anyone thinks I know more about this than you do, the only reason I know what I just said is that you told me right before we started recording <laugh>
Shayna Englin (05:40):
<laugh> Fair. Okay. So if I, if I am about to say something that contradicts something I told you before, I was right before, so come on. remind me. But, so most of these regional broadband consortiums have been you know, largely taken over by incumbent ISPs. because everything through the Public Utilities Commission is really complicated. There's a complicated application procedure there. It's complicated to get money after you're funded all of the things. and so typically these consortia around the state are kind of arms and legs for incumbent ISPs. and there's one in Northern California that isn't. And in LA we wanted ours to not be <laugh>. and so we partnered with the la economic Development Corporation and an education organization called Unite la to put together an application that was gonna be community driven, community based.
We were up against the standard industry funded application. it had a lot of of advantages going in, including having someone who's kind of like on the inside at the P U C trying to block them from being able to apply, trying to change deadlines, all kinds of things. But we won <laugh>. And so we have one of two consortium within LA that is a community driven instead of an industry driven regional broadband consortium that is a kind of direct connect to the p c. And that has really wide ranging implications that have continued to ripple and enable us to do having more wins.
Christopher Mitchell (07:20):
Yes. I mean, I think it's it's nice when the state is making money available to try to solve a problem if the people actually trying to solve the problem are the ones distributing some of that money.
Shayna Englin (07:30):
<laugh> weird, right? It's great <laugh>.
Christopher Mitchell (07:33):
Absolutely. So, so that was, I mean, I think that was like one win that you described as you know, unexpected. I think one of those things where you kind of find out about it last second and all of a sudden you have to know what's going on and then you're like, wow, we're actually, we're winning. And then someone tries to take it away and you have those nights of are we really gonna lose this? And then, and then you win it.
Shayna Englin (07:50):
Well, you might remember the day of the the very first digital equity initiative cohort convening, which was last August. and you were there. Yep. <laugh>, we were downtown la and it was the day of the PUC vote on, on this on who was gonna get that the R B C appointment. And literally that morning we were getting intel that the kind of industry group was driving letters from like local electeds that they had relationships with urging the P U C not to vote on it, or if they did vote on it to not award it to the LA deal. Like as of that morning, it wasn't super clear what was gonna happen. and that vote happened while we were meeting. And so we actually got to celebrate that win together as a, as a baby cohort
Christopher Mitchell (08:40):
<laugh> and I, and I feel like it wasn't too long after that that there was a, a measure that came up before the LA County commissioners. and I think it may be worth just briefly reminding people that LA County is, is possibly mightiest political organization in the United States of America that would be called a local government. It's huge. It's you know, it's bigger than most states I think not just some states, but I think most states. Is that right? So just for to people have a sense, what is, what is LA County?
Shayna Englin (09:10):
So LA County is 10 million people, has just for the county, a 36 billion annual budget within the county. There are 88 independent cities and 65% of the county is unincorporated. So it is a massive, massive endeavor. And we have the two largest ports in the country. So something more than 50% of economic activity that comes in or out of the country goes through one of two ports in Los Angeles. So it is, it is certainly should be a state of its own and arguably a country,
Christopher Mitchell (09:45):
It would not surprise me if it was double digits percentage of the amount of concrete in the United States of America. <laugh>,
Shayna Englin (09:52):
<laugh>. That could be, although, you know what? I am not going to endorse that stereotype cuz we also have lots of green
Christopher Mitchell (10:00):
<laugh>. Yes, yes. absolutely. But it, so the, the county Commission is gonna take up a resolution with three points on it. And I felt like, again, from my perception, there's they have, they have three votes they're gonna have and we're kind of thinking all right, like, let's not lose all of 'em. Right? <laugh>,
Shayna Englin (10:17):
I mean, yeah. So we had the, the county board had a a resolution in front of it. And again, just as a sense of scale, so there are five county board members representing all 10 million LA County residents. So these are folks who have just a, again, a massive footprint and they had directed sort of a, a largely unknown division, the inter the internal services division, <laugh> of the county of la to come back to them with a report of what could be done with existing county resources and assets to solve the digital divide. And the the se Hollands, whose is to terrific came back to them and said, well, here's three things we could do. One is we could shovel money at the incumbent ISPs and essentially like buy contracts, buy broadband service for some set of people. They, he went out to the incumbents and said like, this is roughly the pricing and how many people we could serve for how long.
with that approach, approach two we could put together a community wifi mesh network using county assets. So think libraries, county buildings, power poles, like all kinds of other things. And that we could put together, you know, again, we could by before the end of the year, have free service to somewhere upwards of, you know, 12,500 households who currently have no service at all. and here's what it would cost. And then the third piece is we could start down the path of a community owned fiber to the home network and really start to think about what that would look like. And yeah, we were going into, again, because all of this is so deeply understandable, Viva good government, the way that this kind of policy get winds its way through is there is, it's called an ops cluster meeting, right? Super clear. Yeah. I'm
Christopher Mitchell (12:10):
Gonna lose every Friday, <laugh>
Shayna Englin (12:11):
E every Friday. Ah that is, you know, county board staff and historically lobbyists cuz they're the only ones who actually can be paying attention to this into their job to show up at the ops cluster meeting. so this, when we were going into this ops cluster meeting, thinking that we were hoping to be able to win on the community network. We were hoping, but thought we probably were gonna lose on the fiber to the home. And we thought we were pretty sure we were just gonna have to hold our nose on just shoveling money to the ISPs and we hoped we could at least just have some influence on kind of what the parameters of what that might look like.
Christopher Mitchell (12:53):
Well, well, I was just gonna say, so there's a quick pause here for for dramatic effect people, we say the ISPs, the incumbents, I mean we're largely talking about Charter and AT&T I think for the most part. Yeah. Although Frontier is in some areas, Verizon's still a power, even though they have, they sold their, their plant to Verizon to frontier a long time ago. But they still have wireless services that are available and they still are, are quite big players. Is there anyone else?
Shayna Englin (13:21):
Nope, that's it. I mean it's largely Charter and at and t Frontier has just a small enough footprint. They don't really show up a lot in these spaces in LA and then Verizon shows up a lot and their primary argument is that like essentially a cell service is broadband and we should think about it as an alternative,
Christopher Mitchell (13:40):
Right? I assume they don't literally say, Hey, we talked about how like all these people were gonna have connections and we only signed up 172,000, but we might do more at some point, so we should all get tons of money. They don't, they don't present it that way.
Shayna Englin (13:52):
<laugh>. No. Interestingly weird, huh?
Christopher Mitchell (13:55):
<laugh>. So, so anyway, those, those are the cast of characters that are usually there. So, so you decide that like, hey, let's, let's make a thing of it.
Shayna Englin (14:01):
Yes. And get, just to be clear on, I'm like to kind of set the room. So Charter has four dedicated lobbyists just for the county that show up to everything. Just charter, just to, for the county. So there's like, you know, a massive force here.
Christopher Mitchell (14:17):
There's been times when I, when I, when I go to one of these meetings in the evening and I'm like, I'm here on my own time cuz I'm already past 40 hours for the week. That person's either getting overtime or getting paid a huge salary to come to this. Like, it's just, it's,
Shayna Englin (14:30):
It's just No, they're not underpaid. They're not underpaid. Right. Don't, we don't feel bad for them.
Christopher Mitchell (14:34):
Right. But I also, I just wanna say one other thing too, and that's that when I say whenever I say what did you, when I, what did you do? I also wanna make it clear like it is a, what did the coalition do? Yes. Because I know that you're careful not to either take credit or you know, these things have to be locally in order to succeed. So
Shayna Englin (14:53):
Always Yeah, no, any, any time. And just to be clear, in time I'm saying I or we, it's not me <laugh>, it's that, you know, this group of really kind of amazing activists and leaders that have stepped up to the plate on this. I support them. but they're, it's, these are their wins. So we in that context turned out I think we ended up with 27 people at the ops cluster meeting all ready to raise their hands and speak up from shared kind of talking points and urgings. and we ended up kind of swamping the I s P voices in the room and changed the trajectory of how that went. And in the end the just throw money at the ISPs option wasn't fully adopted. What the, what the board ended up saying was the internal services division, Selly is authorized to go negotiate for contracts and bring those proposed contracts back to the board to vote on specifically.
So that's a huge win. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we won outright on the community wireless network and we won outright on the fiber to the home study as well. So came outta that ops cluster thinking like hopefully on one, maybe onto, and like third is the last cause with like we won across the board. and then that went to the board vote and we won unanimously. And again, that was one where we did not expect to win unanimously. We thought for sure it was gonna be four to one at best. and it was five. Oh.
Christopher Mitchell (16:26):
So this is this is the power of showing up, doing your homework, showing up <laugh> 27 people.
Shayna Englin (16:32):
Right. And I would say like that, that is the theme, right, is that's true to the county. It's been true as we've been starting to work more locally and it has definitely been true at the public case utilities commission to date. We will, we'll find out how true it is on a hopeful vote tomorrow, <laugh>. and and it has been true as we've been really working in the legislature you know, what we've been hearing from staff and legislators is that, you know, they're hearing voices and stories that they've not heard before on this issue and that that does make a difference.
Christopher Mitchell (17:04):
And when we talk about LA County studying a fiber to the home proposal we at least I interpret that as, as trying to figure out what would make sense. I don't think anyone really anticipates that the county would be able to you know, get the agreement of every last jurisdiction within the county to work together on <laugh> fiber network. It's more like, I think looking at
Shayna Englin (17:29):
Opportunistic would magical <laugh>,
Christopher Mitchell (17:32):
Right? I think it's more like opportunistically to areas that need it, right?
Shayna Englin (17:35):
And the, the RFP for like the details of that study are still in development. but I think that the big picture vision is for that to look at what, what really are the potential options, right? Like it could be that there's some hybrid of the county works with as many cities that are willing and interested to build a kind of a wholesale network that is also maybe some of the cities could operate on as ISPs, right? It could be, yeah, just building out to areas that aren't covered and maybe taking advantage of some of the like federal funding account, again, like an account within Cass, which I know we're gonna talk about some of that last mile money to do that in unincorporated areas. Like I, I think that there's a lot of leeway into it, but the win is just the notion that the county is, has signed on to go in that direction. To have county owned assets at any scale that encompasses a fiber to the home system is new and a huge win.
Christopher Mitchell (18:42):
Yes. And the wireless option that you talked about is being implemented and there's a right now they are seeking respondents to a request for qualifications, I think is what it is. yeah. And so that is available and it's a good read. it's pretty impressive what they're doing. for people who are familiar, it's actually, I think the last appendix on one of the things is the part you're looking for as to like what the plans are actually, so if you wanna dig around, look for the last appendix, it might be like R or something like that. <laugh>,
Shayna Englin (19:13):
And I love this cuz this could, has the potential to go from a, an organizing political win. What was that last October to you know, the timeline is that the peop the first people to get service off of this will be as soon as this October. So to go from kind of early policy win and a year later to have people actually having their, their needs met is lightening fast and really exciting.
Christopher Mitchell (19:42):
Excellent. Now as part of all this work, you've had to also become an expert on general on what California is doing with the the federal broadband money, but also money that governor Newsom had set aside for broadband before it was clear how much of the federal money would be coming in. the very impressive vote from the legislature in California to between the governor's office and legislature to appropriate money for broadband. but we don't have time to like explain all of it, but like, how is some of that money being spent in ways that you wanna highlight?
Shayna Englin (20:16):
$3.25 billion of it was going to an an open access public middle mile network, sort of like with regional broadband consortiums that we talked about earlier. It starts out as at the big level, like potentially transformative and very progressive. The devil is going to be in those details in terms of how much of it is ends up being built or bought and actually a public asset versus how much of it's gonna be leased. and again, ultimately just kind of shoveling money to private providers that we kicked on down the road to 20 years from now when those leases are up. but we'll see. And that's still kind of an active fight, but that really does have, have potential to be transformative. and then there's $750 million of the loan loss reserve fund, which hasn't even started on rulemaking yet, but also has potential to really allow, especially smaller localities that can't serve as their own bonding agencies and things to access funding and, and to be able to build out capital.
Christopher Mitchell (21:18):
I think those rules are written are gonna be written over the summer, right? and into August, I think. Yeah,
Shayna Englin (21:23):
I think so. That's so many moons from now. Chris <laugh>.
Christopher Mitchell (21:28):
Yeah. I don't know if, I don't know how many of us are gonna be around still when that happens. I
Shayna Englin (21:31):
Mean, listen, <laugh> and then the, there's 2 billion of it that was for last mile funding and that is how the state appropriated the federal recovery money. And so that is, it's $2 billion in last in funding for last mile projects split a billion between urban counties and a billion in rural counties. and that is money that is all subject to rules set by the Treasury department that is also in rulemaking. We have final rules hopefully and will be voted on tomorrow. They were supposed to be voted on on April 7th,
Christopher Mitchell (22:11):
Which depending on when you listen to this, we're right now we're recording this on the 20th, we're expecting the vote, the rules, we voted on the 21st. People will be listening to this after that. And so we'll have to check out some sort of online resource to figure out what happened.
Shayna Englin (22:26):
We'll come back,
Christopher Mitchell (22:27):
We have a temporal
Shayna Englin (22:28):
Check check Chris's Twitter.
Christopher Mitchell (22:30):
Abnormality right now, <laugh>
Shayna Englin (22:32):
<laugh>. so yeah, so two, two weeks ago the industry successfully derailed that vote in order to buy themselves time to remove some really very reasonable affordability protections that are written into that. but we are have been finding back and, and hope that those, that the vote will happen tomorrow, which will mean that again, that 2 billion can, we can start to think about how that's gonna be deployed. and hopefully it'll have the affordability protections intact. and then a bunch of other things that are in that, that are not, I mean I'm sure they're controversial, but are not up for debate right now are really exciting. They expand the definition of eligible area to something that is gonna be much less usable with from the incumbent ISPs <laugh> can be less able for them to argue that like, no, no, no, we totally serve this.
cuz it comes down to a location level. It makes the challenge process where ISPs can challenge grants going to municipalities much harder for them to win or even to bring. And so it focuses on unserved and underserved, it provides all kinds of of preference for municipal Joint Powers Authority, which is a weird California organization that allows government agencies to work together for co-ops for nonprofits. it just allows for a lot more flexibility for those kinds of organizations to, to do work here. And actually doesn't just allow it, but it preferences them in terms of the kinda how the points are allocated in the, in the applications. So it's exciting. It's gonna pass, you know, one, one way or another. These rules are gonna be adopted. Hopefully when people are listening to this, they have been adopted with some really important affordability protections intact
Christopher Mitchell (24:17):
In, in, just to drill on in that for a second, California is proposing that if you take this money to build a network you have to have as one of your options a $40 month option that will provide at least 50 megabits down, 50 megabits up. You know, it's one of those things that I feel like is really good. I mean, none of these things are super easy and none of 'em come with without trade-offs. But one of the things that I think is interesting is that like, you know, a company like at and t or Frontier, like yes, absolutely they should be forced to do this. some of the, the concern I always have is with smaller companies, like you only have a few independent telephone companies. You have the electric co-ops and I hope that the, the PUC understands that if they're going to have that requirement, which again, I think is totally sensible, that it may have to offer higher levels of support to the rural networks to make sure that they're able to cash flow still. because $40 a month takes a long time to pay off a, an expensive network build to a house.
Shayna Englin (25:22):
Well, so the interesting thing about this is this money covers 100%.
Christopher Mitchell (25:28):
That still boggles my mind. I still, like, every time I see that I'm like, that's a misprint <laugh>. Like, no. Why, why would it be
Shayna Englin (25:33):
A hundred percent?
Christopher Mitchell (25:34):
Is that something that you think is a good idea? Like I'm, again, like I feel like there's some serious trade-offs with that. Like, because I'm, I'm super annoyed whenever I see Frontier or Charter getting an award with public dollars to build a 100% supported network. I'm just like, no. Like I want some skin in the game, even if it's a local government that I love. I think there's gotta be skin in the game.
Shayna Englin (25:52):
Yes and no. I I I think there's, there are kind of a bunch of things at play and as you said, they're trade offs, right? one is that I think when we say, okay, like you are applying for funding to build this network to serve an area that has either been chronically unserved or chronically underserved wouldn't make it as easy as possible and as straightforward as possible to get that access built. and that looks like streamlining the funding as much as possible, right? So as soon as you start to say, well, you need to find matching funds or there's, you know, bonding or, you know, whatever else, it adds a fair amount of complication and I think makes it more difficult and probably slows it down quite a bit. So you know, in the interest of just like getting things built, <laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative>
And as streamlined quick way as possible I think that kind of a hundred percent funding makes total sense. I also like it and we'll see how this ends up playing out. but it also means that you can actually put a bunch more of those public interest requirements on that money. And so is it true that it would probably be unreasonable to say a $40 a month, 50 symmetrical offering has to be included on this infrastructure for the life of the infrastructure if you weren't taking care of the the kind of capital expenses and the debt around that that are normally on the balance books? Sure. In this context, there is no universe in which any system, like any good system should be able to operate profitably without capital expenses <laugh> with just maintenance and operating.
Christopher Mitchell (27:31):
So the only, I mean, honestly then now knowing that that deeper picture, the only, I mean, the only thing I can imagine is that the cable and telephone companies are really against this because of the threat of the good example. Because they know that if there's 2 million people and they're only paying $40 a month to get this like pretty high speed connection comparatively you know you know, FI 50 50 over a fiber network is, is really better than many people experience on a much faster claimed cable network. They, the, they know there's gonna be a political pressure to say, you know, why do the people living over there get such a great deal? And like, we pay three times that amount, you know, in the year 2025 for this, this craps connection that I have. so yeah, I mean, absolutely. I mean, it makes a lot of sense and I think that the cable and telephone companies probably recognize that, that it's a real threat to them that just people knowing that you can get great service at an affordable rate.
Shayna Englin (28:25):
Well, I think there's, there are a few things going on there, one is yes, of course, like if you actually demonstrate the insane finances of broadband and how the profit margins must work, right? if that, if that can be profitable, I, I do think that that opens up a lot of questions that, that incumbent ISPs don't wanna answer. but there's also the reality that that big incumbent ISPs almost never participate in these projects, right? I think Charter, which their chief GR government relations person set in a hearing a few weeks ago that they had invested a billion dollars in capital in California and in the same breath we're really excited about the 13 million that they had in Caif funding. And then they even had to return some of that cuz they couldn't complete the projects. I mean the, they just <laugh> the amount of and they're, and Charter and Charter's one of the only of the big ISPs that actually participates in these projects.
The reality is that where they're coming from is if, if a, if these smaller networks end up being profitable and successful, which they will, you know, down the road, these larger networks will try to purchase, purchase them. And given that the, the policy says for the life of the infrastructure, that means that when they purchase them, they purchase them with these public interest provisions intact and they don't wanna have to meet those public interest provisions down the road. And so you know, I think they're trying to, to avoid that reality. which again, I think, I think a hard thing about talking about all of this stuff is it's just, it's complicated and you have to sort of, it's 10 steps down the road, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> well, so why should we care about that? Well, here's the thing. If Charter buys this like small municipal network that was built with public dollars down the road because it's profitable, they're, you're still spending a bunch of public money on private profit, it's just down the road, right?
Right. And so you should still actually have those public interest provisions intact. It's not like they put that money back into the state coffers. Like that's just not how that works. So that's one, I think a second is that, and I'm, and I'm gonna try not to curse on your podcast, but it's bs, right? Like at a basic level it's bs like these companies are already providing faster service for lower prices. They're just providing them in wealthy areas. So a, as part of our work on this, we did an analysis where an analysis sounds like a a a very formal thing, a formal way to describe what I'm about to tell you. So <laugh>, we looked at some of the, the, the counties in California and we organized within some of the bigger cities in those organized census blocks by poverty rate.
And then we picked literally at at random a residential address within some of the high poverty census blocks and some of the low poverty census blocks. And what we found nearly universally for Charter and at and t for sure, Comcast actually was less egregious on this was that we found things like in Beverly Hills you know, famously <laugh> one of the wealthiest zip codes in all of California, and in fact in all of the country you can get, they're offering their 400 megabit service with no data caps for $45 a month. And they're offering giga bit service for again, no data caps for $80 a month. And those are two year promotional rates in the, like two miles away, three miles away in some of the poorest kind of like highest poverty census blocks. they are offering that same 400 megabit service for $65 a month, and they are off, or 70, excuse me, $70 a month.
They're offering the gigabit service for $90 a month, and those are just one year promotional rates and that plays out again and again mm-hmm. <affirmative> and again and again. And so it is already true that these companies are offering fast, affordable internet. They're just not offering it to the people who actually need the affordable rate. and then the third piece is that I, I think it's <laugh>, it's, and that'd be really interesting to see how this all plays out. but you know, they're, they're trying to make an equity argument around this by saying, oh, well this should be means tested. Like if you're gonna require an affordable fast option, the only people who should get access to that are people who qualify, which I just think is so interesting because, well, I tell you what, we can start to do that as soon as you start to have to show your 10 40 s in order to shop at the, at the dollar store, right? <laugh>, or like, if, if you have income above the certain level, you're not allowed to buy the, like, wanna getaway fairs on Southwest. it's just such a, it is a, it is weird to me that it has so much traction to suggest that in, you know, a fast affordable option should not be available to everyone. And if you can afford to pay more for more service, you probably will. You almost certainly will. And if not, you have the bare minimum.
Christopher Mitchell (33:35):
The unspoken idea, I think is that for middle income families, that competition would drive the price down and, and obviously we know that that's it happens in some cases, but like, usually what happens is that one of those companies gets bought by the other or something like that, or like the competition is pretty ephemeral and then it moves on and then you have people that are locked into the monopoly prices and then before too long they'll be paying more than a hundred dollars a month
Shayna Englin (34:01):
On another podcast. We can totally nerd out on the history of franchises in California and sort of how that happened. But this is a case where, you know, the, the companies literally did just sort of like go through the state and flip franchises to create Monopoly mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And when you kind of look again through the places where that happened, you have places like like in San Diego County Oceanside technically at and t and I think Cox is there, but the way that they ended up splitting it up is like you can get extremely crappy, very expensive service from at and t and like you can actually get pretty good affordable ish service from Cox. But it's the way that they sort of split up the, the franchises in the areas and where they serve that that causes that to be true. So it's effectively a monopoly. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> certainly a monopoly for anything you would want
Christopher Mitchell (34:53):
<laugh>. Right. The last thing that I want to raise is something just building up. I think it'd be awesome to get the CEO of like In and Out Burger or one of the, the larger California franchises to have a statement like whenever Comcast or Charter, who are the ones that do it the most often, sometimes at and t will be like at at t you know, we've invested a trillion and a half dollars over the last like 106 years that we've run this company in these areas. And I just want In and Out Burger to stand up and be like, we've invested like this much and we demand that you closed down the food pantries. You know, like <laugh>, yes, we pay our workers $20 an hour and like here you have volunteers giving out free food and competition with us. It's ridiculous. And it has to stop <laugh>.
Shayna Englin (35:36):
I mean, that, that is the corollary. <laugh> <laugh> for sure. <laugh>,
Christopher Mitchell (35:42):
This has been a fun conversation. They always are. always. So thank you so much Shayna for sharing that. I think it's gonna be interesting if we can see some other states picking up here and getting some good ideas from California and and moving forward with them. but I think it is wonderful to have really positive things to say about California and the legislature. I mean, there's certainly some criticisms that, that we have here and there, but like, this is a state where at and t was super dominant for so long. It is, it is a big deal that the legislature is actually doing something in the public interests on this issue because not enough people vote on it, not enough people are paying attention. And in any win that we get in these legislatures, we need to celebrate. So thanks for being so involved.
Shayna Englin (36:26):
I, I think it's important to also celebrate and, and note that it is also a big deal that organizations like, you know, great public schools now in la which is an education organization, has absolutely stepped forward and invested resources in really being leaders on this issue and educating all of their kind of parents and kids and teachers on on kind of how to speak up for themselves here, or the Community Clinics Association, which has also done the same. I, I think that is also a win. And, and one of the things that is making this moment different is that it is, even while the kind of politics and politicians I think are gonna stop caring as much about this <laugh> in short order, the digital divide is gonna stop being a thing we talk about in short order. I think it's gonna be because those local leaders have really stepped up with and for their communities in ways that at least I haven't seen before in doing this work. And I think it's really exciting.
Christopher Mitchell (37:24):
Yes, I think it's another model for hopefully other communities. Samuel Lee, thank you so much for your time today.
Shayna Englin (37:30):
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