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    The San Diego Regional Digital Equity Coalition is a community-led organization of regional stakeholders coming together to address the pressing digital divide issues in San Diego County.

    The pandemic didn’t create the digital divide- it revealed it and created new challenges that will only exacerbate existing disparities. Nationally, at the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 30 million K-12 students lacked adequate internet or devices to sustain effective distance learning at home- and 9 million of these students lacked both internet and devices. In California, almost 1.8 million students don’t have adequate internet service, and about 700,000 have no device. And for our region, almost 87,000 households lack internet service, including one in four households earning less than $25,000 annually.

    Some telecommunications companies have worked with cities and school districts to distribute devices such as laptops and hotspots to students who need them, but serious issues remain when it comes to service access and bandwidth, and these fixes are temporary, often inadequate to meet connectivity needs, and don’t provide long-term solutions.

    The following principles are intended to serve as a vision for localities to take meaningful steps to close the digital divide and ensure justice in the deployment of broadband networks.

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    I. Every household deserves access to a high-speed, fiber connection.

    Broadband providers have systematically discriminated against higher poverty communities by failing to deploy fiber-to-the-home, a practice referred to as “digital redlining.” These communities’ options for in-home broadband are limited to insufficient lower-speed, lower-capacity networks.

    The current federally-determined metric to determine a household’s broadband access, 25 megabits per second download (25 Mbps) and three megabits per second (3 Mbps) upload, or 25/3 mbps, fails to reflect network speed and capacity needs for our increasingly digital economy.

    Additionally, wireless networks, including the promised 5G network, are not an adequate substitute for wired broadband connections. Though 5G networks will be faster than existing 4G LTE speeds, the fastest industry-cited 5G speeds have already been surpassed by fiber-to-the-home. Wired broadband is also not subject to the same bandwidth limitations, such as vulnerability to absorption and scattering, and difficulty penetrating walls.

    Broadband providers must demonstrate their commitment to building fiber-to-the-home to all communities by presenting plans for deployment and seeking stakeholder input.

     

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    II. Wireless network infrastructure should be equitably distributed across all neighborhoods.

    Some wireless carriers are deploying new, high-speed wireless network infrastructure in higher-income neighborhoods and business districts, and are choosing not to invest in low-income, underserved neighborhoods, continuing the practice of digital redlining and exacerbating the digital divide.

    The 5G, next-generation wireless service should be made available to all communities, regardless of potential profitability. Wireless carriers should be required to present their deployment plans to the public and civil servants to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and public engagement.

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    III. Workers who construct, install, and maintain communications infrastructure are an integral part of our digital ecosystem.

    All communications workers, including those working for subcontractors, deserve livable wages, benefits, and the right to organize and bargain collectively without fear of retaliation. In order to ensure accountability and transparency, cities should require that companies report the identity of all subcontractors that will be working under city permits and verify those firms meet standards for training, safety, licensing and liability coverage. Cities should also require that all companies and contractors comply with federal, state, and local labor laws and regulations - including Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act - and explore targeted hiring requirements and labor standards in future network construction. Network buildout should support the local workforce and benefit the local economy.

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    IV. “Access” is more than network connectivity alone.

    Without access to adequate devices and literacy regarding digital navigation, residents will not benefit from connectivity. Any effort to promote digital equity and inclusion must include provision of appropriate devices, as well as instructional offerings for how to navigate the technology, to ensure people and communities are able to fully participate in our economy and democracy.

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    V. Immigration, income, and housing status should not be barriers to digital connectivity.

    Access to the internet, devices, and digital literacy are basic human rights. These rights cannot depend on documentation, secure housing, or ability to pay. Cities must be deliberate in ensuring accurate accounting of and engagement with traditionally underrepresented and hard-to-reach families, so no one is left out. Cities must commit to not collaborating with and sharing any collected information with federal immigration authorities and other police agencies.

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    VI. Communities should be compensated fairly for corporate use of public assets.

    In order to build and maintain profitable broadband networks, telecommunications companies rely on both street infrastructure that is funded and maintained by the public, and civil servants who ensure the many services that use our rights-of-way do so safely. Companies should provide compensation for the fair value of their use of community assets so that local governments can cover costs and address the digital divide.

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    VII. Data Privacy Must Protect Civil Rights

    In order to be digitally connected, people should not have to sacrifice their right to digital privacy. Data collection and surveillance practices must protect civil rights and liberties, prevent unlawful discrimination, advance equal opportunity, and ensure that low-income people and people with limited-English proficiency are fully protected. Moreover, any policy concerning data collection and storage must prevent processing of data to discriminate against marginalized populations (including women, people of color, the formerly incarcerated, immigrants, religious minorities, the LGBTQIA/+ communities, the elderly, disabled persons, low-income individuals, and young people) or to target marginalized populations.

    SIGNERS

    Richard Barrera, Vice President, San Diego Unified School Board

    Paula Hall, Board Member, Sweetwater Union High School Board

    Orlando Gonzalez, Secretary-Treasurer, CWA Local 9509

    Jesse Abril, Secretary-Treasurer, CWA Local 9511

    Craig Milgrim, Trustee, San Diego Community College District

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    Susan Skala, President, Chula Vista Educators

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    Antonio Martinez, Vice President, San Ysidro School Board

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     Julie Walker, President, Sweetwater Education Association

    /s/

    Gina Potter, Superintendent, San Ysidro School District

    /s/

    Dr. Moises Aguirre, Acting Superintendent, Sweetwater Union High School District

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