Commentary: Little Hoover Chair Urges Broadband Bill’s Passage

Pedro Nava - Chair, Little Hoover Commission - TechWire.net

Imagine if every Californian could access the government services they need as quickly and easily as shopping online or booking a flight. It may sound too good to be true, but such efficiency is entirely possible. And high-speed broadband is the key to making it happen.

As the state’s independent watchdog, the Little Hoover Commission examined the many ways technology can transform Californians’ experiences with their government in our 2015 report, A Customer-Centric Upgrade for California Government.

That report made one thing clear: Upgrading to more efficient digital services requires that every Californian has affordable, reliable broadband coverage. A proposal currently making its way through the Legislature – Assembly Bill 537 – will help make this a reality.

For too long, California has lagged behind in using technology to provide the public with the convenience they have come to expect. Look no further than the Employment Development Department. Problems with decades-old technology prevent thousands of out-of-work Californians from quickly receiving assistance that is crucial to paying the bills and putting food on the table.

The need for tech-savvy solutions has never been more urgent.

With high-speed broadband, communities across the state can access the help they need, both from the state and private sector. Families can sign up for health care and attend classes from the comfort of home. Small businesses can expand their market reach throughout their local communities and beyond. Young voters can easily find information about their government and get involved in the political process. And, critical to the Commission’s mission, state agencies can streamline bureaucratic processes by offering them online or through apps accessible anywhere.

Unfortunately, far too many Californians are unable to enjoy these benefits.

Last year, the Commission published an Issue Brief on the state’s digital divide, and found that as many as 2.3 million Californians lack access to broadband. And while California ranks among the top states in the nation for its strong low-cost monthly broadband plans, its average Internet speed is one of the lowest in the country.

In the state that’s synonymous with technological innovation the world over, this is unacceptable.

That’s why the Commission urged state leaders to expand online access to government services. Assembly Bill 537 by Assemblymember Bill Quirk will help the state do just that.

Right now, efforts to expand Internet coverage in communities across California are plagued by a bureaucratic permitting process that can take years to resolve. AB 537 would streamline the process by simply requiring that local jurisdictions follow federally mandated timelines for approving or denying broadband project permits.

Such a change would ensure high-speed broadband is delivered in months instead of years to communities that need it the most. No more long waits for the connectivity so crucial to connect with society.

A California where everyone can quickly and easily interact with their government is possible, but the Legislature must act now. By passing AB 537, lawmakers can expand broadband and ensure that every Californian can access the help they need to thrive.

Pedro Nava is the chair of the Little Hoover Commission. He can be reached at Pedro.Nava@lhc.ca.gov.