(Photo Credit: Mervi Eskelinen)
If your monthly Internet bill brings a tear to your eye and you think the government should be providing your broadband connection, you’re not alone. A new study from the Public Policy Institute of California surveyed Californians on their relationship with technology, resulting in a slew of stats on our growing reliance on computers and cell phones.
Two in three Californians surveyed believe a broadband Internet connection should be seen less as a luxury and more as a public utility, offered through public programs to help boost access in low-income and rural areas. Broadband access is increasingly seen as a part of infrastructure, and it’s no surprise so many Californians support some form of public wi-fi, considering their responses to its importance in their lives and the economy.
As many as 56 percent believe those without broadband are at a major disadvantage because of its importance in job searches and finding information, and an additional 25 percent view it as a minor disadvantage.
The consensus over the importance of Internet access is disturbing when seen in the light of the digital divide, built along income and racial lines. While 69 percent of Californians have access at home, only 53 percent of households that earn less than $40,000 have it. On the contrary, households pulling in $80,000 have a 92 percent chance of having home Internet access. Additionally, barely over half of Latinos have home access, while blacks, whites, and Asians all come in at over 70 percent.
But coming up with the funds for programs to expand broadband access would be tough for any cash-strapped state, and California already has an estimated $765 billion infrastructure deficit over the next ten years. That includes things like roads and schools, not just expanding broadband.
There are no easy answers to how to fund everything over the next decade, but what is clear is that Californians put a lot of importance in Internet access – three in four believe teaching computer and Internet skills in school is very important – and that needs to be taken into account in the skills training conversation. Internet access is critical for the development of California’s workforce for its preparation while in school, as well as when the workforce is looking for tools to find and connect with employers.
In order to put its citizens in a position to be innovators of the future, California needs to do everything it can to innovate now when it comes to funding its crumbling infrastructure. Not only does it need to repair what it already has, it must create for the future. It’s a tall task, but it’s an issue that the California Economic Summit has taken on and remains committed to.