Co-authored with Camille Crittenden, executive director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute
One in four Americans do not have high-speed internet access at home. Indeed, in its latest biennial survey of undergraduate students, the University of California (UC) found that 40% of low-income undergraduate students are concerned or very concerned about reliable internet access, compared to only 28% of undergraduates who do not face significant financial constraints. Many of these students have gone to extreme lengths to stay connected, including gathering in parking lots outside coffee shops, restaurants, and campus buildings to access a steady WiFi signal. While these spaces have become a digital lifeline to online education, work, and public services, they’re a troubling sign of a deepening digital divide. A divide that UC is well positioned to help close.
Because of its extensive geographic footprint, vast infrastructure, technical capacity, and deep ties to surrounding communities, UC can serve an important role to help address digital insecurity throughout the state. A report published by the CITRIS Policy Lab with support from the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) proposes four guiding strategies and corresponding recommendations to expand affordable, high-quality, and equitable broadband access:
While the pandemic has revealed the acute vulnerabilities faced by unconnected and under-connected communities, these broadband gaps will only deepen disparities if left unaddressed. Fortunately, political leaders and advocates have successfully integrated support for digital equity initiatives within economic recovery legislation, with billions in funding allocated in California. UC should be a key partner in this effort. In doing so, UC can leverage its unique capabilities to help the state of California close the digital divide, while simultaneously supporting its core mission to provide world-renowned teaching, path-breaking research, and meaningful public service.
The report builds upon key insights from interviews with government, industry, and academic experts and from the UC Broadband Working Group, composed of chief information officers and chief innovation officers within UCOP and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; directors from UC Institutes of Science and Innovation, including CITRIS and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2); leadership from state agencies focused on broadband inclusion, such as the California Department of Technology and the California State Transportation Agency; and leadership from the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC), the primary provider of high-speed broadband service to UC campuses and the administrator of GoldenStateNet, California’s publicly-funded middle-mile network.