Broadband for Every California Household: One Gigabit or Bust!


LA MIRADA, Calif. & BERKELEY, Calif.--()--The following is an opinion editorial provided by Louis Fox President and CEO, CENIC.

If we have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that access to broadband is now a social determinant of health, education, work, and economic security. Our homes have become our schools, our workplaces, and our clinics via remote education, work, and telehealth.

In 2003, through a grant from the State of California, the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) focused on speeding one-gigabit broadband to all Californians in their schools, colleges, and libraries by 2010. Seventeen years later, many of the 12,000 institutions that connect to CENIC have achieved gigabit status or more. However, there are institutions without this level of broadband access, and for these communities, Californians not only lack broadband access at their schools and libraries, but in their homes and businesses, and in their hospitals and clinics.

CENIC has partnered with schools and libraries throughout California, engaging education, business, and government leaders, and working closely with private sector telecommunications partners to ensure that broadband access is the rising tide that lifts all boats. It is now time to renew and redouble our efforts towards one-gigabit broadband for all Californians at home, as well as at school and work.

One in four households with school-aged children in California do not have a desktop or laptop computer and a high-speed Internet connection. These households were already significantly disadvantaged and the pandemic only exacerbates inequities. This represents about 870,000 families whose children are likely to fall behind in educational attainment, who cannot access telehealth, and who lack remote access to the workplace.

Current benchmarks for what constitutes broadband are not adequate. Broadband standards must recognize that all household members are impacted by stay-at-home orders, and our homes are now our schools or colleges, workplaces, healthcare facilities, libraries, and communications hubs, with family members engaged in concurrent use of interactive video, resources in the cloud, and other bandwidth-intensive applications.

In 2015, the FCC adopted a 25/3 Mbps benchmark, capacity that would allow “basic or moderate use” in a household. These benchmarks have remained unchanged. The California Public Utilities Commission has an even lower benchmark of 6/1 Mbps for a household to be considered “served” by broadband.

As one of the world’s leading economies, California’s actions should be shaped by what we might call Gretzky’s Law: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Standards for what constitutes broadband were not created for the historical moment that we find ourselves in, nor for the myriad dependencies that we have on the Internet, across the many facets of our lives.

Imagine a family of four with one K-12 student engaged in multiple online activities; one college student on an interactive video class; one parent downloading files from the cloud for work and on a teleconference; and another parent, perhaps out of work, looking online for employment, while pursuing a certificate program to advance their prospects. This could easily tally to 100 Mbps download capacity, with upload speeds of 20-30 Mbps. COVID-19 stay-at-home circumstances have made previous benchmarks like the FCC’s 25/3 Mbps an artifact of a distant era.

To achieve one-gigabit broadband for all Californians, we suggest the following policy considerations:

1. Subsidies are critical. To reach low-income homes with high-quality broadband access, consider subsidies to defray monthly costs.

2. Bandwidth standards for rural and urban settings will be unequal for the foreseeable future.

a. For urban areas, leverage installed telecommunications where possible, creating incentives for fiber to the home deployments. Aspire to 1 Gbps symmetrical services to every home.

b. For rural areas, with low population densities, and little or no terrestrial infrastructure, a standard of 100/20 Mbps is achievable on the way to 1 Gbps for all.

c. It isn’t just bandwidth. Consider other critical factors beyond download speeds: upload speeds, latency and packet loss, and data caps.

2. The household is the denominator. Concurrent use of the network – several family members involved in different online pursuits simultaneously – is the baseline for determining necessary bandwidth.

3. Begin with what we have. Leverage the existing telecommunications base throughout the state.

4. Build in accountability. Require independent network performance testing for subsidies or incentives.

One gigabit is not a technology -- it is about the capabilities this capacity makes possible for education, health care, and the workplace. Now is the time to provide all California families access to the best education, health care, and opportunities for economic security. In California shorthand, “One gigabit or bust!”

Louis Fox is President and CEO of CENIC. Prior to joining CENIC, Louis was a faculty member and administrator at the University of Washington and Duke University. He lives in Berkeley, California.

For additional information, see CENIC Perspectives: Home Broadband

About CENIC |

CENIC connects California to the world — advancing education and research statewide by providing the world-class network essential for innovation, collaboration, and economic growth. This nonprofit organization operates the California Research and Education Network (CalREN), a high-capacity network designed to meet the unique requirements of over 20 million users, including the vast majority of K-20 students together with educators, researchers, and individuals at other vital public-serving institutions. CENIC’s Charter Associates are part of the world’s largest education system; they include the California K-12 system, California Community Colleges, the California State University system, California’s public libraries, the University of California system, Stanford, Caltech, USC, and the Naval Postgraduate School. CENIC also provides connectivity to leading-edge institutions and industry research organizations around the world, serving the public as a catalyst for a vibrant California.


Lee Ann Weber | CENIC | | 510-508-8302


Lee Ann Weber | CENIC | | 510-508-8302