Legislature Mulls 4 Bills on Digital Equity
The proposed laws would address what digital equity means to the state and its residents and could provide funding to educators and technologists alike.
Four bills making their way through the California Assembly and Senate would address various aspects of digital equity, from codifying what that means to the state and its residents to leveling the playing field in education and even in tech itself. Here’s the latest progress by those proposed laws:
- Assembly Bill 2750, from Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, would place additional duties on the California Department of Technology (CDT). The bill would require CDT to work with residents, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Broadband Council to create a state digital equity plan. The bill would mandate that plan include “the identification of barriers to digital equity faced by specified populations, as provided, and measurable objectives towards achieving digital equity among those populations.” The bill also requires CDT to seek all available federal funding to develop and deploy the plan. The bill has been referred to the Assembly committees on Communications and Conveyance and on Privacy and Consumer Protection. Hearing dates have not yet been scheduled.
- State Senate Bill 876, from state Sen. Josh Becker, D-San Mateo, would appropriate $18 million from the state General Fund for the California Department of Education (CDE) in the 2022-2023 fiscal year to establish the Digital Education Equity Program (DEEP), which the department would administer as a grant program to, among other things, support “the planned implementation of educational technology services by all county offices of education.” Per the bill, DEEP would have to provide technical support and professional development for teachers to school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools on the implementation of that technology; and, by Jan. 31, 2023, CDE would have to work with the executive director of the state board to authorize grants of up to three years in duration to pay county offices of education that create educational technology plans. DEEP would also have to deliver program guidelines and criteria for funding the county education offices in those instances. The bill would also appropriate $3 million from the General Fund to CDE in FY 2022-2023 to create the Office of Educational Technology and Digital Equity, “with sufficient staff to administer the provisions of the bill.” It would also authorize the state superintendent of education to deliver “centralized statewide educational technology services that address locally defined needs, as specified.” The superintendent would have to report in writing annually to the state board and the Legislature on funds spent and services provided. The bill has been referred to the California Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations, but no hearing date has been set.
- AB 2753, from Assemblymember Eloise Reyes, D-San Bernardino, would create a Digital Equity Bill of Rights, stating that it’s state policy to ensure digital equity for all California residents; that residents shall have the right to broadband “that meets specific requirements;” and that “broadband Internet subscribers benefit from equal access to broadband Internet service.” The bill would require the CPUC to adopt rules to facilitate equal access to broadband by Jan. 1, 2025, and require that any rules it adopts “promote equal access to robust broadband Internet service by prohibiting deployment discrimination.” The CPUC would also be required to create “model policies and best practices” that local governments can use to ensure Internet service providers don’t practice digital discrimination, and would require revision of the CPUC’s public complaint process to accept digital discrimination-related complaints. The bill specifies that under current law, violating the Public Utilities Act is a crime — and because the act would codify provisions of this bill, if it passes, violating this bill’s provisions would be a crime. The bill has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance, where it’s scheduled to be considered at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
- SB 1325, from state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, would create the Techquity Innovation Program, to be administered by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), to fund grants or investments “upon appropriation by the Legislature,” to advance “equity in tech entrepreneurship in California, and support underserved, equity-forward entrepreneurs and business owners in geographic areas that are socioeconomically disadvantaged or that have limited venture capital funding opportunities.” The bill would also create the California Techquity Innovation Program Fund to support the program — though how and to what extent it would fund the program is not specified. Per the bill, GO-Biz would be empowered to fund competitive grants including for “tech accelerators and incubators that support minority-led, women-led, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons-led technology businesses”; for “underrepresented venture capital managers and underserved entrepreneurs” developing economic opportunities based in the state; and for “regional workforce development partnerships that advance equity in tech employment.” The bill is slated to be considered at 10 a.m. Monday by Senate Appropriations.