Girls using Taco Bell wifi in Salinas
The widely circulated photo of two young girls in Salinas relying on Taco Bell’s wifi for their education. Image from Instagram

Gov. Gavin Newsom and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly reached a deal Monday to spend $5.25 billion expanding California’s broadband internet connectivity for families and businesses.

The agreement was announced by Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and it will be codified in a trailer bill to the state budget.

The legislation includes:

  • Creating a “broadband czar” and nine-member council within the California Department of Technology to oversee the project.
  • Hiring a third-party to build and maintain the so-called “middle-mile network” — high-capacity fiber lines that carry large amounts of data at higher speeds over longer distances between local networks.
  • Investing $3.25 billion to target that middle mile and build the broadband lines.
  • Providing $2 billion for “last-mile” lines that will connect consumers’ homes and businesses, with spending divided equally between rural and urban communities.

The legislation is an attempt to address the problems faced by many in California during the pandemic, when school and work depended on reliable connections. It’s made possible by a windfall in the wake of the pandemic, including a $76 billion state budget surplus and $27 billion in related federal aid.

Newsom and the legislative leaders acknowledged that “work on this critical issue is not done” and promised to provided the necessary funding to “ensure every Californian has access to high-quality broadband internet.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.