Other | September 20, 2021

Mending the Digital Divide in Los Angeles

by Shayna Englin
Photo Credit: Compare Fibre

The fallout of the COVID crisis should put to rest any meaningful debate about whether access to the internet is a civil rights issue. This past year, disparities in access to a fast, reliable, and affordable internet connection have dramatically exacerbated existing inequities in education, healthcare, connection to government services, and ability to participate fully in economic and civic life.

While all Angelenos faced challenges due to the pandemic, many of our neighbors carried extra burdens, like the nearly 40% of Black and Latino children in Los Angeles who don’t have a computer and high-speed internet at home, so were robbed of a year of their education.

In 2021, we cannot talk about equity without talking about closing the gap in access to fast, reliable, and affordable internet that leaves lower-income neighborhoods and Angelenos of color behind. It is time for our public policy and public investments to reflect that reality.

This spring, CCF launched the Digital Equity Initiative to create a movement for digital equity in Los Angeles County to empower our communities to have a voice in the fight to legislate, regulate, and fund broadband as the modern utility that it is.

We are focused on broadband infrastructure solutions as systems-level drivers of the digital divide. All efforts to close the digital divide are important, including those focused on equipping more homes with devices and the technical skills needed to navigate online, but without sufficient broadband access at an affordable cost, devices and digital literacy cannot be put to effective use.

The last few months have seen a whirlwind of fast-moving broadband policy changes – mostly wins – in part thanks to an emerging coalition of equity advocates from across multiple sectors who are coming together to advance digital equity:

  • Six Billion Dollars for Broadband Infrastructure. In July the Assembly passed and the Governor signed AB/SB 156, the largest public investment in broadband infrastructure in the country, ever. If deployed as intended, this historic investment, combined with policy changes in the bill that give localities and other public-serving organizations an expanded role in finding solutions for our communities, is large enough to finally end the digital divide for good. CCF played a significant role in mobilizing LA equity advocates on behalf of this bill, and continues to work to empower partners to advocate to ensure advancing equity remains at the heart of how these resources are spent.
  • Field Building and Implementation Advocacy. As CCF launched the Digital Equity Initiative, a significant gap emerged; LA’s community-based-organizations and local leaders did not have the information they needed to advocate for our region, nor did they have capacity to engage the highly technical regulatory processes to make their voices heard. In collaboration with partners, CCF stood up rapid response capacity to quickly empower and build this needed capacity, resulting in historic levels of community participation in California Public Utility Commission processes that have historically been dominated by industry interests.
  • Launch Digital Equity movement in LA with inaugural cohort convening. In August, CCF hosted the first Los Angeles digital equity cohort convening, where we built relationships, shared problem definition, and an early action plan to grow the movement into a powerful and engaged force to advance digital equity through narrative building, community empowerment, and advocacy at every level of government.

This digital equity movement is just getting started in Los Angeles County, and we’re excited about the opportunities to come together to ensure every Angeleno has access to the fast, reliable, and affordable broadband they need to fully participate.

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