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COMMUNITY UNION’S COMMENTS

CA State Senate
Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response

OCTOBER 26, 2020

 

BY: L.A. ORTEGA

The Digital Divide represents a purposeful strategy designed to deny opportunity to our children.  Our children need, now more than ever, seamless access to the rich resources of the Internet.  (Internet Service Providers’) ISP’s failures have caused major disruption – 2 decades and counting.  We need greater investment in…accountability, NOT just INFRASTRUCTURE.  We need an inventory of the fiber in the ground, as of today.  One estimate has as many as 42 million miles of dark fiber in the ground.

ISP’s FAILURES have caused major disruption to our entire economic system, e.g. children can’t learn, parents can’t work, monopolies disguised as legit-corporations manipulate the system.  Tax breaks, rate increases to consumers, revolving-doors for regulators, and heavy deregulation were gifts – we the consumer – bestowed on the ISP’s in exchange for a fiber-optic network.  ISP’s created the perfect situation for price gouging the American consumer, but never delivered on the fiber-optic network.

We must now turn our focus toward accountability and integrity; market forces and deregulation were promoted as an automatic means to fair pricing, access, equity (as in local ownership of the network), etc.  However, as our sole piece of evidence – the Digital Divide – we have proven once again deregulation does NOT work.  As such, Community Union and the 30 million people they have touched are calling for an immediate Audit on ATT, Verizon, Charter (Spectrum) and Comcast.  We would like to see how fair pricing was executed, were there any cross-subsidies, and where is the dark fiber located.  The CASF fund could be used to conduct the audit and inventory the public utility, e.g. where are the fiber-optic lines currently installed, which are dark and which are lit.  We would like to see part of the CASF Fund used for increased accountability on the incumbent Internet providers.  We – consumers, regulators and the legislature – must collectively stop the billions of dollars currently given to ISP’s to close the digital divide.  We need accountability and a strict inventory on the assets belonging to the state utility (the public).  Consumers deserve to know the exact location of the state’s utilities, a.k.a. dark fiber (that is fiber-optics currently in the ground but not currently being used).  

The build-out of California’s fiber-optic network

We must move to a local-centric (municipality/school district) model.  Our focus should be to localize the delivery of opportunity/information with a fiber-optic mandate to effect immediate change in the neighborhood.

The IRREGULATORS estimate that California rate payers have been over charged about $1.75 billion in 2019 and about $2 billion in 2020.  This public utility money – destined to close the digital divide – never made it.  

Let us stop acting like the digital divide came upon us unexpectedly like some tsunami or hurricane.  Rather, let us be honest with ourselves and admit deregulation has once again failed us.  Industry has once again taken advantage of the American consumer.  Prices as low as $20 per month for 100mbps up and down in Europe and Israel have been available at least the last two years to consumers living in those regions. 

Digital red-lining has netted ISP’s enormous profit.  The digital divide by design, was perfectly executed without interruption for nearly two decades.  Then Covid-19 hit, distance learning mandated and viola the farce that providers were connecting everyone – everywhere was revealed.  With all the bad things that Covid-19 has brought to our neighborhoods, the upside is there is the political will to hold ISP’s accountable and provide alternative funding methods to municipalities and school districts to close the digital divide once and for all. 

Today, October 26, 2020 we find that about 40%, 4 out of every 10 kids, cannot/are not connecting to the Internet to do distance learning. How we will recover from this major setback is still yet to be seen.  But one thing is for sure, we must get the infrastructure completed to every home; we must get parents trained on the valuable resources they are and have access to in order to fast-track our children in catching-up.  The money and inventory is there through the CASF fund – let’s do the Audit; the political will is there – lets do the Audit; billions of dollars in overcharges exacted on the American consumer – lets do the Audit; millions of miles in dark fiber belonging to the state utility, paid for by rate payers – let’s do the Audit. 

                                    California – the fifth largest economy in the world – can and will do better.

Thank you Senator Connie Leyva and Senator Lena Gonzalez, co-chairs of the Committee.

L.A. Ortega
10/27/2020

One of the Country’s Foremost Authorities on Digital Divide Issues.
Since 1993 Mr. Ortega has led community technology training efforts throughout the state of California.  A 30-year technology veteran, having changed tens thousands of lives, Mr. Ortega continues the push for information/opportunity equality.