In summary

AB 537 would develop a universal, streamlined permitting process for high-speed internet projects to help bridge the digital divide.

By Bill Quirk, Special to CalMatters

Assemblymember Bill Quirk, a Democrat from Hayward, represents California’s 20th Assembly District, bill.quirk@asm.ca.gov.

With case numbers declining, vaccination rates rising and businesses reopening, California is slowly returning to a sense of normalcy and turning the page on a dark chapter of history. 

Over a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic thrust all of us into a severe public health and economic crisis, forcing us into a new reality. The pandemic pushed us all to function in an environment that was reliant on virtual learning, telemedicine and remote work. In doing so, it highlighted the severity of California’s digital divide. 

As we shifted to this new reality, the intense impacts of the digital divide became increasingly prevalent. In September, a photo of two California girls using the WiFi outside of a Taco Bell to complete schoolwork went viral, providing all of us with a very clear image of just how harmful the digital divide is in California.  

Over 1 million Californian students currently lack internet connectivity.  Nearly 42% of California families said that unreliable internet access was a challenge for them during distance learning, and 29% said a lack of devices were hindering their learning experience, according to a recent poll by EdSource and FM3 Research.

As a member of the California state Assembly, I’ve supported efforts to expand internet access for all Californians. This year, I authored Assembly Bill 537 to modernize California’s broadband permitting process to ensure all Californians can quickly benefit from high-speed internet projects.  

This bill would require local governments to approve or deny broadband permits within federally mandated timelines. For too long, internet connectivity projects in our state have been delayed by confusing regulations that are entrenched in bureaucracy.

By passing AB 537, my colleagues in the Legislature can streamline internet infrastructure projects that will provide much needed relief for communities across our state. Slow broadband permitting processes have had a severe impact on bringing high-speed internet to low-income and rural communities.  

As we continue to battle this vicious virus and the many challenges it has brought into our everyday lives, we must view it as a call to addressing the severe inequity created by the digital divide. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for our state to address the digital divide. 

The Legislature should act now to make sure every Californian has access to high-speed internet. To do that, the Legislature must pass AB 537 to develop a universal, streamlined process to deploy broadband in every community.

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Assemblymember Bill Quirk has also written about the importance of funding independent science research in California.

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