California Seeks To Bring Digital Access To Rural Areas

Digital Access

In Winters California, a small farming community with 7000 residents located just west of Sacramento, it was only a few years ago when most students in the community became acquainted with the convenience of having a computer at home. In response to this dilemma, the town mayor at the time, Cecilia Aquiar-Curry, championed a program that would allow for 6th graders to check-out laptops for use at home.

The program also called for parents to become computer literate and for many, it was their first experience with the internet.

Aquiar-Curry recalls that the appreciation felt by some parents moved them to tears as they would now be able to after a day of fieldwork log on to a computer at night and monitor the academic progress of their students.

In the state of California, larger cities have become hubs for technology with free wi-fi access and fiber optics becoming an afterthought. But in many inland and rural areas with lower income, a largely migrant population has struggled to get connected.

Some state officials believe this issue to be on that handicaps many residents and are looking to do something about it.

The California Advanced Services Fund was started in 2007 and is used to provide an incentive for companies to help with remedying the situation. The program has accepted $300 million in grant applications from companies that would provide fiber optics, as well as copper and cable lines in isolated and impoverished areas.

The goal of the fund was to provide connection to 98% of a targeted 12.9 million homes and is just a few percentage points shy of this goal. Despite this success, many families in rural areas are still not connected.

One example of this problem is the experience of Laytonville resident Dorje Bond. Laytonville is a tiny town north of San Francisco and internet access is so uncommon that Dorje did not receive vital information regarding evacuation during the wildfires.

Trish Steel, a mother that is a committee chair for the Broadband Alliance For Mendocino County recalls that her son would have to do homework between 12 A.M. and 5 A.M. because those were the hours that her family's data plan from satellite service was unlimited.

In Winters, Aquiar-Curry was able to convince an independent service provider to provide free Wi-FI to a town housing project for a limited time each night so that students would be able to do homework.

As a member of the State Assembly in 2016, Aguiar-Curry proposed further funding to the California Advanced Services Fund and the matter became one of the most hotly contested political battles in the state for the year of 2017.