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Thursday, Dec 8, 2022
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Time for Angelenos to Get Connected

Thanks to broadband connectivity, countless Americans were able to continue working, learning and communicating with friends and family despite the challenges caused by the pandemic over the past two years. Our dependence on this vital resource only continues to grow, which is why it is well-warranted for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to be assessing ways to accelerate digital equity and ensure that everyone has the connectivity that they need. 

Addressing the county’s digital divide in the quickest, most effective manner will require an effort that is primarily focused on the adoption-related barriers that prevent Angelenos from being online. 

We should avoid the puzzling calls by some for a government-owned network, which would do little to get more Angelenos online, take up to a decade to compete and cost a fortune. In a sparsely populated, rural region with few providers and limited coverage, pursuing this option might make sense, but none of these characteristics apply to Los Angeles County, which was dubbed one of the “counties with the most broadband penetration” by BroadbandNow. 

To be clear, the few remaining tracts of rural Los Angeles County – like the north part of the county – without broadband infrastructure need it and need it now. That’s why we should expand coverage to the remaining 0.3% of Angelenos without it by partnering with one of the over 30 providers with existing networks that serve our area. This will take far less time and money than building a new network. Think of it this way: If you had a leak in your house, wouldn’t it be more effective to simply plug the leak rather than build an entirely new home? 

More prevalent than the number of Angelenos lacking access to broadband infrastructure, is the number of unconnected residents who either believe they lack the financial means to afford a high-speed internet subscription or lack the digital literacy or language skills needed to get online. To assist those impacted by affordability, the most impactful barrier which is keeping two-thirds of unconnected Americans offline, we must invest in a robust outreach initiative for the Affordable Connectivity Program. 

Established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the connectivity program provides a $30 monthly voucher on an internet subscription for eligible households, of which there are over 1.6 million in Los Angeles County. If coupled with the low-income offerings available from providers, the connectivity program benefit makes an internet subscription free of charge or close to it. 

The biggest flaw with the program is that not enough people have enrolled, as only about a third of eligible Los Angeles County households are enrolled in the ACP. There are two reasons for lack of enrollment – people don’t know about the program or struggle with the application process. The county should build upon and bolster its previous efforts to promote the program which yielded positive results. When the county partnered with the California Emerging Technology Fund on an advertising campaign to promote the program, it triggered a 43 percent increase in signups month over month. 

The county should also complement its ACP amplification by investing in trusted community partners referred to as Digital Navigators, who assist people who struggle with the enrollment process. Digital Navigators are also reliable educators who can help those that are offline due to digital literacy deficiencies. This multi-pronged approach focused on adoption and affordability would not only be more effective, but also more expeditious than the pursuit of a government-run network. 

Nancy Hoffman Vanyek is the chief executive of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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