MONTEREY COUNTY — Digital equity and infrastructure in Monterey County are receiving a record investment of state broadband funding, with the announcement of $2.5 million in broadband technical assistance grants to local municipalities to support efforts to close the digital divide.
The cities of Gonzales, Greenfield, King City and Soledad and the County of Monterey will each get approximately $500,000 in Local Agency Technical Assistance grants from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as the result of those efforts.
The awards, announced by the CPUC on Oct. 21, are the largest award of state broadband funds to local governments to date, totaling $14 million in grants to 28 local governments across California.
Partnering with the Golden State Connect Authority (GSCA), Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) coordinated the applications with the four Salinas Valley cities and the County of Monterey that will develop and oversee the expansion of broadband service in South Monterey County.
Rural counties often struggle with broadband access because of the challenges ISPs face in making infrastructure investments economically feasible, while geography and affordability can also compound the barriers to equal access.
“The relatively high cost of deployment in many rural areas has historically left these communities underserved by traditional providers,” said CPUC Commissioner Darcie L. Houck. “Technical Assistance grants will aid local agencies and Tribes in their efforts to fill the gaps left behind, helping to ensure economic opportunity and public safety for rural residents, businesses and visitors.”
Monterey Bay Economic Partnership works to address digital inequity and access issues and establish minimum broadband standards. As part of its broadband initiative, MBEP convenes state, city and county governments, county offices of education and ISPs together to explore how to facilitate high-speed broadband coverage for all residents of the Monterey Bay region.
MBEP also serves as the executive director of the South Salinas Valley Broadband Authority (SSVBA).
“These are incredibly transformative investments into the economy of our South County cities and unincorporated areas of Monterey County,” said MBEP President and CEO Tahra Goraya. “Reliable, high-speed broadband access impacts so many areas of our day-to-day lives. The coalitions we’re building and investments we are making will have long-range impacts on families, students and individuals, on small business owners and entrepreneurs and innovation, and the region as a whole.”
Golden State Connect Authority is a joint powers authority created by the 38-county Rural County Representatives of California for the purpose of increasing access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet for the residents and businesses of those counties. Seven cities and 21 different counties across the state received Local Agency Technical Assistance grants from the CPUC as part of a larger effort by the GSCA to build and operate open access fiber-to-the-home networks in California’s rural counties.
The latest round of funding will be used for planning costs for the middle-mile fiber route buildout and last-mile fiber or engineered wireless connections that will ultimately create an open access network serving all residents of the South Monterey County cities and unincorporated areas.
“These grants are valuable to plan how we are going to build out this broadband model,” said Alexia Garcia, broadband and farmworker housing policy manager for MBEP.
In some cases, those middle-mile connections come down to four strands of dark fiber, no larger than a human hair, but with an oversized impact on how residents live, learn, communicate and connect.
“The things we saw in the pandemic — families parked around school buses or in library parking lots for hours at a time so their kids could access Wi-Fi hotspots, students struggling to learn through spotty internet service and dropped connections, and the unforgettable photo of two young girls in a Taco Bell parking lot — those things helped galvanize public opinion and political will to address the inequities of the digital divide,” Goraya said. “Spurred in part by those experiences and the high costs of infrastructure investments, local leaders in collaboration with Rural County Representatives of California are proactively working to maximize resources and collectively meet their broadband infrastructure needs.”