Technicity Times
    Issue 3• June 2003

California 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 technology advocates.

"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 Loretta Lynch.

"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 technology gap."

"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 in California.


Editor's Note: This is an important issue, and new developments may be imminent. For more information contact Richard Chabrán, Chair, CCTPG (chabran@cctpg.org) (909) 234-1768, James Lau, Policy Specialist, The Children's Partnership (jlau@childrenspartnership.org, (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 lfowells@communitypartners.org. John McDonald is Principal, Stone's Throw.

 

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