Last week, the California Broadband Council held its first meeting at the State Capitol.  The Council was created by SB 1462 (Padilla), signed into law last year to promote broadband deployment and adoption throughout the state to help close the Digital Divide. In particular, SB 1462:

* Specifies duties of the Council relating to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, implementing California Broadband Task Force Report recommendations, and coordinating state resources for broadband deployment and adoption;

* Requires the Council to convene its first meeting no later than March 1, 2011, and thereafter as the Council determines, with the president of the CPUC serving as chair of the first meeting;

* Requires the Council to provide for input from stakeholder groups at its regular public meetings, and through public hearings, roundtables, advisory groups, or other means as the Council determines; and,

* Specifies members of the Council, including the president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC, Michael Peevey, presiding as Chair), Secretary of the California Technology Agency (Acting Secretary Christy Quinlan), Secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency (Sue Plantz attending for Acting Secretary Mike Dayton), Superintendent of Public Instruction (Craig Cheslog attending for Superintendent Tom Torlakson), Director of General Services (Tom Jones, CIO, attending for Acting Director Scott Harvey), Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing (Robert Glazier attending for Acting Director Traci Stevens), one member of the Senate appointed by the Senate Rules Committee (Senator Alex Padilla), one Member of the Assembly appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly (Assemblymember Steven C. Bradford), and the president of the California Emerging Technology Fund (Sunne Wright McPeak).

At the meeting, Michael Peevey, President of the CPUC, and Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, were elected as the Council’s Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively.

Acting Secretary Quinlan of the California Technology Agency reported the extensive work that her agency had done on the broadband American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants, Health IT projects, and the “Pathways to Digital Literacy” July 2010 Report.  She emphasized that it is important to break down the technology silos that currently exist.  It is a goal of the California Technology Agency to give Californians access to technology so that it can become a delivery tool for education, business, and health care.

Senator Padilla reviewed the statutory purposes of the Council, emphasizing that the Council was not a policy-making entity, or funding body, but was designed instead to coordinate efforts between state agencies, the Legislature, the CPUC industry, and stakeholders.  Last year, during the governor’s race, he said there was a feeling that the positive momentum in broadband from the last Administration should not be lost.  He acknowledged that during the bill consideration, some parties had expressed a desire for a much larger Council, but he ultimately concluded it was important to keep the Council of a workable size.  As a result, working groups or advisory groups would be formed to allow for additional input and participation by all parties of all levels: state, local, industry, and other stakeholders.

In addition, the Council heard from multiple stakeholders throughout the state who are working to bring affordable broadband service to disadvantaged communities and are deploying wireless and other technologies to bring broadband to hard-to-reach communities.  One update was on the deployment of the California Telehealth Network (CTN), now connecting 800 or more health care sites to each other with high-speed broadband for telehealth applications.  CTN is currently seeking applications from which to select 15 model eHealth communities.

I delivered a 10-minute report on how California has fared on the seven California Broadband Task Force Report recommendations, which may be accessed here.

Sunne McPeak, President of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), discussed progress on statewide broadband projects in California, including School2Home, Smart Communities, and particularly its “Getting Connected for Economic Prosperity and Quality of Life: A Resource Guide for Local and Regional Government Leaders to Promote Broadband Deployment and Adoption,” which may be accessed here.

McPeak also emphasized her non-profit organization’s close partnership with the CPUC, Legislature, Governor’s Office, and community technology leaders in achieving the narrowing of the Digital Divide in our state. She said that the CETF is striving for 80% broadband adoption and 98% at a speed adequate for consumer applications by 2015. Another goal is to have 90% broadband adoption by 2020 (matching the FCC’s National Broadband Plan goals).  (CETF’s activities are very broad and are best reviewed in its annual report here).

Over a dozen public speakers took the opportunity to address the new Broadband Council.  Some community-based organizations emphasized the importance of digital inclusion to vulnerable populations such as low income, non-English speaking, minority, and artist communities.  Many government services and job opportunities require Internet access.  Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) came to emphasize their important role in bringing broadband wirelessly to areas where there are no broadband providers, and how it becomes important to agricultural industries there. One startup company promised free broadband for low income persons paid for by companies in a new “1-800”-like business model.

The Council agreed with Assemblymember Bradford to take these Council meetings “on the road,” beginning with Southern California.  Working groups were not yet established by the Council, which will take input on what working groups may be advisable from the public.  The Chairman said the next meeting will be convened in about three to four months.  It is contemplated that a public website for the Council will be launched soon to keep the public informed of the Council’s activities.

Stay tuned as we enter move forward to provide strong, coordinated state leadership to bring high-speed Internet access to residents in every area of our state.