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State Chooses Nonprofit as Broadband Administrator

The entity selected has a long history of working with state and local government to improve Internet access. Here, it will focus on “developing the fiber network, creating rural exchange points, and collaborating with the California Public Utilities Commission and Caltrans” on, generally, middle-mile broadband.

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California has chosen a key partner to assist it in improving residents’ access to high-speed Internet and closing the digital divide.

The California Department of Technology (CDT) has announced that the state has retained the nonprofit Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) California Middle-Mile Broadband Initiative as the California middle-mile broadband network third-party administrator (TPA). It’s still early in the process, but here’s what is known about what that means:

  • A familiar entity in California, CENIC has worked with state and local government on improving Internet access for many years. In late September 2019, the city of Alameda embarked on a two-year public-private partnership with CENIC, enabling Internet access via its California Research and Education Network (CalREN), a series of network services that reach most of the state's education and research institutions.
  • As TPA, CENIC will collaborate with municipal, state, tribal, private-sector and other community organizations, per the news release late Wednesday. It will be responsible for “developing the fiber network, creating rural exchange points, and collaborating with the California Public Utilities Commission and Caltrans.” Precise details of the development process haven’t been released; this article may be updated. However, the ultimate goal is developing a “California statewide open-access middle-mile broadband network called ‘GoldenStateNet,’” capable of connecting “last-mile broadband providers to first-mile providers, thereby connecting homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions” to the Internet. Work on the network is expected to run through December 2026.
    “California is bridging the digital divide by facilitating equitable, affordable access to high-speed Internet service throughout the state,” state Chief Information Officer Amy Tong, who is also CDT director, said in a statement. “CENIC California MMBI has the experience and reach to deliver an open-access middle-mile broadband network throughout the state.”
  • The nonprofit’s role in any potential selection of IT vendors to help California close the so-called digital divide remains unclear, as does a detailed timetable. However, it’s been clear for months that despite a somewhat protracted budget process, the state has a healthy amount of funding coming online to help it realize its connectivity goals. In state Senate Bill 156, the budget trailer bill, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature partnered, per the news release, on a $6 billion multiyear investment in broadband. The bill delivered $3.25 billion in one-time Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funding specifically for an “open access, middle-mile network made of high-capacity optical fiber,” over the next three years. “The network is a key component of the statewide effort to provide access to an affordable broadband network in currently unserved and under-served areas,” CDT said in its budget.
    “In many ways our role in this effort is to be a fulcrum to balance the aspirations of our partners in state government with the interests, assets, and capacities of our partners in the private sector, in order to ensure that all Californians have reliable access to broadband,” Louis Fox, president of CENIC California Middle Mile Broadband Initiative, told Techwire via email Friday, indicating it is CENIC’s intention “to work closely with all providers.”
  • CENIC’s work will be guided by a nine-member Middle-Mile Advisory Committee chaired by Tong and with members from state entities including the departments of Transportation and Finance, the Government Operations Agency, the California Public Utilities Commission, and two ex-officio members each from the state Assembly and Senate. The committee is charged with monitoring the development and construction of the broadband infrastructure so “service providers, anchor institutions and tribal entities can create connections: facilitating high-speed Internet across the state.” Its guiding principles include providing “affordable, open-access, middle-mile broadband infrastructure” for last-mile connectivity, building the network expeditiously, and prioritizing unserved and under-served communities. The committee’s first meeting will be held virtually at 1 p.m. Sept. 15.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.