By Cristal Mojica

The Public Policy Institute of California’s “Bridging California’s Digital Divide”—a virtual conference that took place July 18-20—highlighted the historic investments, local innovations, and digital equity priorities in the state of California. 

We were honored to attend and learn from local, state, and federal leaders as they shared their perspectives on the barriers to digital access across California’s diverse communities, and attempted to tackle the big question: How can we most effectively leverage recent funding to overcome infrastructure, geographic, and policy obstacles and ensure digital equity? 

On Day 1 of the conference, there was a spotlight on the heavy geographic and administrative barriers faced by Tribal communities as they look to develop broadband infrastructure and achieve digital sovereignty, while building for future generations through strong partnerships. 

During a panel, Christina Snider, Tribal Affairs Secretary for the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, encouraged attendees to consider the unique challenges and strengths of each Tribal community when developing resources for the advancement of digital equity, beyond the current historic funding. She also emphasized the need for ongoing flexibility and adaptability within Tribal partnerships to ensure that communities can most effectively allocate and use the resources available. 

These critical conversations will continue beyond the conference through the summer, as funding for infrastructure via the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program begins to make its way throughout the state with oversight from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Additional insights from the robust discussions on Day 2 and Day 3 included: 

  1. California has some of the most rugged, expansive, and diverse topography in the United States, making broadband build-out challenging from a geographic perspective. 
  2. Broadband solutions should address communities’ unique challenges and be community-driven.
  3. Networks should be built with long-term sustainability in mind; we should be “future-proofing” networks and making sure that we are building for the needs of tomorrow. This includes considering whether the technology and services provided will be able to meet the future speed needs of the community.
  4. Many Tribal communities building out broadband infrastructure are entering a market that is entirely new to them and are facing the question: Where do you see your community in its exercise of sovereignty at the local, state, and federal level?
  5. Planning long-term projects with finite funding requires prioritizing partnerships and understanding how to leverage existing policies to stretch dollars.
  6. The sharing of data between different California stakeholders at the local and county level working collectively to achieve digital equity can go a long way. MOUs can help facilitate this sharing of data.

The Michelson 20MM Foundation looks forward to continuing our support of PPIC’s multi-year research on achieving universal broadband in California, as they draw on statewide broadband data and interviews with community partners across California’s 58 counties. With support from a 2023 Michelson 20MM Digital Equity Spark Grant, PPIC’s ongoing research will examine barriers to installing broadband in underserved communities and elevate local solutions and best practices that will benefit all Californians as we collectively aim to close the digital divide.

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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