Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Broadband black holes plague California, PPIC study finds

The Public Policy Institute of California has issued a study of broadband Internet access in the Golden State that not surprisingly finds broadband access lacking outside of urban areas.

The study, Broadband for All? Gaps in California’s Broadband Adoption and Availability, found California households with high-speed Internet ranges from under 30 percent in the Sierra Nevada (21%) and northern part of the state (29%) to just over 50 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area (51%) and the greater Los Angeles area (52%).

After controlling for individual characteristics such as income and education, the PPIC analysis finds that more than half the regional differences remain, indicating that broadband availability — or more specifically the lack thereof — explains why many residences aren't on line with broadband.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Broadband Task Force, which is expected to issue its own report in October, could help identify barriers to providers’ offering service in rural areas and the state could offer subsidies to providers serving rural areas, the PPIC report suggests.

In addition, it recommends the California Emerging Technology Fund should focus on broadband deployment in rural areas. "Our findings have important implications for broadband policy," PPIC Research Fellow Jed Kolko concludes. "If closing gaps in broadband availability is a policy goal, raising availability in rural areas should be the top priority."

As the study finds, household income and ethnicity aren't germane when it comes to broadband access. Unfortunately the issue managed to make its way into California's DIVCA (the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006) which erroneously assumes broadband providers "redline" poor neighborhoods when in fact deployment of broadband infrastructure is based on residential density. There are people with million dollar homes -- even ones relatively close to other homes -- who can't get wireline-based broadband short of installing business class T-1 lines.

The PPIC study correctly views broadband as vital infrastructure and not as a socioeconomic issue. It's all about availability and build out and not about income or ethnicity.

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