Teleconnect Fund Expansion Offers New
Opportunities for Community-Based Organizations
By Linda Fowells and John MacDonald
A recent ruling by the California Public
Utilities Commission (PUC) expanding the California Teleconnect Fund
(CTF), that provides a 50 percent discount on telecommunications services,
will create new opportunities for community-based organizations to
offer affordable access to technology, training and other resources
to individuals in low income communities, according to the California
Community Technology Policy Group (CCTPG) a coalition of community
"This expansion will help to assure that underserved communities
benefit from developments in digital technology and telecommunications,"
says Richard Chabrán, chair of the CCTPG. "These changes
make it more affordable and remove many of the barriers that discouraged
community-based organizations from participating in the program."
The May 8, 2003 ruling by the PUC provides educational, health
care and government institutions, and community-based organizations
with access to advanced telecommunications services in recognition
of their economic and societal impact. The expansion adds community
technology programs and district-owned and -operated hospitals and
health clinics to the list of eligible entities that may use the
fund. The ruling sets the discount rate for participating entities
at 50% and adds DSL as an eligible service. It also streamlines
the application process and standardizes the discounts and services
eligible institutions receive. The CTF program discounts are funded
by surcharges on consumer telephone bills.
As an example of the potential impact, the coalition points to
The Bresee Foundation in Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization providing
community members with access to technology and training through
its community technology program.
"This may help to cut our DSL access costs in half and provide
us with affordable resources to better serve our community,"
says Reverend Jeff Carr, Bresee Foundation executive director. "These
changes will increase the effectiveness of the CTF program and increase
the number of community-based organizations that it serves."
The expansion of the CTF program is in part the result of the efforts
of California State Senator Debra Bowen, who authored SB 1863 directing
the PUC to expand the CTF program, and the support of PUC Commissioner
"We owe Ms. Bowen and Ms. Lynch a debt of gratitude,"
says Chabrán. "Their work has helped to make sure that
underserved communities realize the benefits of technology by making
clear that CTF includes community technology programs and by providing
incentives for community technology programs to apply for CTF discounts."
In 1996, when the California Teleconnect Fund (CTF) was first established,
it placed California ahead of the nation in developing a program
that provided support to institutions and organizations that sought
to extend the promise of digital technologies to its residents.
However, in many respects the need for assuring access and use of
digital opportunities is more acute today than when CTF was established.
PUC Commissioner Loretta Lynch notes that, " the PUC's expansion
of the CFT program promotes increased technology services to underserved
communities and furthers California's leadership in addressing the
"The streamlined process should make more advanced services
available sooner to program participants," adds Jack Leutza,
Director of the PUC Telecommunication Division.
The California Community Technology Policy Group (CCTPG) is a coalition
of nonprofit community technology organizations advocating for the
expansion of technology and telecommunications resources to serve
low-income communities. The coalition includes more than 100 organizations
seeking to meet the needs of low income and other underserved populations.
CCTPG estimates that there are over 700 community technology programs
Editor's Note: This is an important issue, and new developments
may be imminent. For more information contact Richard Chabrán,
Chair, CCTPG (email@example.com)
(909) 234-1768, James Lau, Policy Specialist, The Children's Partnership
(310) 260-1220), or visit www.cctpg.org.
For more information on the California Teleconnect Fund visit http://www.cpuc.ca.gov.
Linda Fowells is Vice President,
Programs and Public Affairs at Community Partners and an active
member of CCTPG. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John McDonald is Principal, Stone's Throw.