Closing the ‘digital divide’ in Sonoma County

Sonoma County supervisors are looking at creating a public entity to make broadband access more available in underserved regions of the County. The Access Sonoma Broadband Action Plan, approved in early June, seeks to improve equitable access to broadband internet technology, wireless and cell phone services.

“Broadband internet access is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. There’s a digital divide in Sonoma County where the infrastructure either does not exist or service is simply unaffordable in some communities,” Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, Chair of the Board of Supervisors said. “This plan presents a path forward on establishing a public-private partnership that can identify community needs, leverage funding, and effectively expand access to broadband technology in Sonoma County.”

Because it is not considered economically viable for most private companies to install broadband to unserved and underserved parts of Sonoma County, a publicly governed broadband entity could build, own and maintain broadband infrastructure. Service providers would lease the infrastructure to provide internet services at a reduced rate.

The Access Sonoma Broadband Action Plan includes $315,000 of General Fund investment for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board to look at similar programs in other areas.

The Economic Development Board has an initiative in progress to learn more about the actual level of broadband availability, allowing community members to test their current home internet speeds. The Access Sonoma Broadband Speed Test Initiative will provide vital baseline information about the quality of access countywide.

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