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Gov. Gavin Newsom is pitching a three-year, $7 billion broadband expansion to get California households connected to high-speed internet. 

“Let’s get this done once and for all, so that no future administration is talking about the scourge of the digital divide,” Newsom said Friday as part of California’s $100 billion windfall.

The announcement comes after a pandemic year that exposed the consequences of California’s long-festering digital divide. As CalMatters reported, millions of students have struggled to access virtual school because they lacked a reliable internet connection at home, often because they couldn’t afford high-speed internet.

Newsom’s proposal would mostly use federal relief dollars to build a statewide “middle-mile” fiber broadband network to incentivize providers to “expand service to unserved and underserved areas by substantially reducing their upfront infrastructure costs,” according to his budget proposal. The aim is to connect the 51% of rural households that have no high-speed options.

With a $500 million loan program, Newsom signaled support for a growing movement of local municipalities and nonprofits building out broadband networks. It’s a movement that President Joe Biden centered in his infrastructure plan, sending internet providers into an existential fight over who builds America’s broadband future.

Gov. Gavin Newsom presents the breakdown for the $267.8 billion budget revise in a program dubbed ‘California Roars Back’ at the Secretary of State building auditorium in Sacramento on May 14, 2021. The budget focuses large allotments toward education, housing and climate resiliency measures. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

However, the proposal does little to address the barrier of affordability — especially in urban and suburban communities where high-speed internet infrastructure exists, but the cost remains out of reach for many households. Newsom hinted that the ball is in the court of legislators who have introduced a flurry of bills to address broadband access.

“We still have to deal with the issue of access and affordability. We have a lot of work to do with the legislature in that space,” Newsom said.

This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

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Jackie covered income inequity and economic survival for the The California Divide collaboration from 2019 through 2021. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting in 2021 for a Reuters...