We applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom for vetoing AB 41, the Digital Equity in Video Franchising Act of 2023 (DEVFA).
The California Alliance for Digital Equity (CADE), who once supported the bill, argued that the bill was watered down with amendments and weakened consumer protections, eliminatd anti-discrimination and equal access provisions, and significantly lessened the current regulatory authority of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). They argue the authority needs to be increased not reduced.
Because of its rollback of anti-discrimination provisions, the 2023 act would have jeopardized the state’s ability to draw down billions in federal digital access and inclusion dollars.
California has been a leader in digital access. In 2006, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (DIVCA) eliminated all local input and control over cable franchises and vested the authority instead with the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
Today, the CPUC lacks the oversight, regulatory, and enforcement authority needed to hold industry accountable. AB 41 would have perpetuated these inequities and disparities. Instead of reforming the current system, it weakened it.
The coalition of digital equity advocates initially supported AB 41 to make overdue and needed reforms to the 2006 law. But in the summer they withdrew their support when the legislation was watered down.
Those opposing AB41 include Nextgen California, Common Sense Media, #OaklandUndivided, Michelson Center for Public Policy, Rural County Representatives of California and the California Community Foundation.
But reform is still needed.
Today, there is less competition in the digital marketplace and prices are up as much as 157% in certain parts of the state. Too many Californians still do not have access to fast and reliable broadband service.
Households earning $50,000 or less a year are the least likely to have broadband at home, according to a 2021 report by the National League of Cities (NLC) constituency group Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO). According to the latest five-year American Community Survey, the median income for Latino households was $51,811.
Affordability is one of the main reasons respondents give for not going online. Some 25% of Latinos cite affordability as a reason for not going online compared to 19% of the entire U.S. population.
According to data from the League of United Latin American Citizens, 31 percent of Latino households do not have access to broadband. Most of these households are clustered in rural communities, where high-speed broadband internet is the hardest to find.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California,15% of Black and 14% of Latino households do not have access to a computer device at home.
In May 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program, a temporary pandemic program that subsidized household internet bills up to $50 per month. At the end of 2021, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) replaced EBB. This offers long-term support for eligible households but at a reduced amount of $30 per month. But most eligible households still haven’t received the ACP internet subsidy. Only 36% of over 8 million eligible households had enrolled by April 2023, according to the California Department of Technology.
The digital divide cannot be solved by one branch of government alone. Local, state and federal leaders must partner to close the gaps and ensure a more equitable broadband future for all the people in the state.
We need stronger legal protections, not weaker ones.
Read more stories about digital divide here.