Technicity Times
    Issue 4 • November 2003

First of its kind in the nation

New Digital Divide Fund Signed into Law

By Linda Fowells and Laurie Kawakami

California now has a new Digital Divide Grant Program aimed at closing the technology gap!

Recently, California's Governor Davis signed AB 855 (Firebaugh and Levine) which mandates that 15% of the revenues generated from new leases for wireless telecommunication facilities (e.g., cell towers on state property) will be set aside to create a Digital Divide Fund. This fund will be administered by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to provide grants to community-based nonprofit organizations for projects such as technology training, developing local community content, harnessing technology for e-government services, and preparing youth for opportunities in the technology-based new economy.

In his signing message, Governor Gray Davis cited that the new Digital Divide Fund, "will result in a win-win outcome by enhancing providers' ability to locate wireless facilities, while generating additional revenue for digital divide projects." The Governor's office estimates that this bill will generate $3 to $6 million for Digital Divide projects. The law also strengthens the California Teleconnect Fund (which allows discounts to CBOs for telecommunications services).

The California Community Technology Policy Group (CCTPG) has been integral in shaping and successfully passing this legislation (AB 855) as part of its Policy Agenda. CCTPG's Agenda calls for the creation of new funding streams and the direction of existing funds to promote digital opportunities for low-income, disabled, and rural communities. The new Digital Divide legislation addresses both of these goals; first with the creation of a dedicated and sustainable fund; and secondly with the enhancement of the California Teleconnect Fund, a component of the Public Utilities Commission's current universal service program, and a fund CCTPG successfully fought to preserve earlier this year.

This new legislation is the first of its kind in the nation, written broadly to support a range of digital projects that address access, training and content development. While the current bill puts the program into place, supporting legislation is still needed to work out the implementation. CCTPG will continue to count on supporters of Community Technology again as we work on the implementation of the AB 855, as well as SB 720, another technology bill we sucessfully supported that allows funds to subsidize community technology programs' access to high speed networks.

But before we take our next steps, we wish to thank all those who helped us make this goal a reality. As Assemblyman Firebaugh told us earlier this year during Sacramento Day, obtaining new resources for our communities requires new and innovative public private partnerships. AB 855 is a great example!

For the complete text of the bill, go to

http://info.sen.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=ab_855 .

 


Linda Fowells is Vice President, Programs and Public Affairs at Community Partners and is an active member of CCTPG. She can be reached at lfowells@communitypartners.org. Laurie Kawakami is a Program Assistant at Community Partners. She can be reached at LKawakami@CommunityPartners.org .

 

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