By Shiloh Wallack
On October 21, 2022, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) stated they had made their largest funding award to 28 local governments in the amount of $14 million in grants. These grants are to help with broadband technical assistance with the goal of closing the digital divide. The digital divide is unequal access to digital technology, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and the general internet itself. This divide furthers inequality around access to information and any subsequent resources.
CPUC’s Commissioner Darice L. Houck said, “Technical Assistances grants will aid local agencies…helping to ensure economic opportunity and public safety for rural residents, businesses, and visitors.” There are myriad projects this funding is aimed at, most expected to be completed within a 24-month timeline once applications have been received. Each grant to a local government will be approximately $500,000 and is primarily to be used as a reimbursement for the expenses concerning the network design services for unserved areas in any of the applicants’ jurisdictions. Once completed, the second phase aims at engineering these projects to provide service to households and/or businesses that will meet and even exceed 100 megabits per second (Mpbs) for both upload and download speed. The hope is that the public will be able to consistently rely on these internet speeds wherever and whenever necessary.
These government grants are actually a follow-up from 12 previous grants CPUC awarded last week in the hopes of showcasing that CPUC is contributing to the ultimate goal of bridging the digital divide. More information and summaries of the grants can be found here.
These grants will also be made available to Tribal governments for reimbursement, and will be administered through the Local Agency Technical Assistance Grant Program. The reason these grants are being extended to Tribal governments as well is that they are the most knowledgeable about the state of their broadband within their communities.
These grants are a key component of California’s $6 billion Broadband for All investment. SB 156 (Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review) (Chapter 112, Statues of 2021) introduced how the Joint Exercise of Powers Act authorizes any and all joint power entities created under the act to issue mortgage revenue bonds and industrial development bonds. SB 156 “authorized those joint power entities to also issue revenue bonds for the deployment of broadband infrastructure by a public entity or nonprofit organization.” These aforementioned grants are to further administer the investment so as to help close the digital divide. [27:1 CRLR 265–67]
To be eligible for these grants, entities applying should become familiar with the guidelines provided by CPUC to ensure they meet the necessary qualifications. Should an entity’s application be approved, and subsequently receive grants, those grants count as reimbursements for eligible pre-construction expenses to provide high-speed connections to unserved and underserved communities alike. As mentioned before, Tribal governments can also become eligible to apply for technical assistance grants in addition to getting the expanded broadband.
According to Commissioner Houck, these grants are set to counteract, “[t]he relatively high cost of deployment in many rural areas [that] has historically left these communities underserved by traditional providers.”
For more information, visit CPUC’s website to see the breakdown of the grants and how to apply for them.