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Tech Department Seeks Additional Budget Funding for Digital Equity

The ask comes in the form of a budget change proposal and offers alternatives to the complete funding sought.

A bunch of broadband cables plugged into ports.
The state technology department is seeking additional funding to further digital equity across California.

In a budget change proposal (BCP) released last week, the California Department of Technology (CDT) is seeking nine positions and $2.5 million from the state’s General Fund — including $1 million for consulting during the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year starting July 1 “and on-going to develop a state digital equity plan and obtain anticipated federal funding to develop, oversee and monitor the implementation of the State Digital Equity Plan (SDEP).” Among the takeaways:

  • The requests come out of the passage last year of state Assembly Bill 2750; it required CDT, by Jan. 1, 2024, to work with “the public, the Public Utilities Commission, and the California Broadband Council” on developing a state digital equity plan. The bill, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, requires the plan to identify barriers to digital equity, including “the availability and affordability of access to fixed and wireless broadband technology”; and the plan must have “measurable objectives for documenting and promoting digital equity” and “an assessment of existing digital navigator programs.” The bill also requires CDT to seek “all available federal funding” to develop and implement this plan.
  • The funding will enable development of an SDEP that follows “federal Digital Equity Act grant guidelines”; and the monitoring of its implementation “through additional National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) funding from Capacity and Competitive Grant Programs” over five years. Additional funds are needed, per the BCP, to build capacity within CDT’s Office of Broadband and Digital Literacy (OBDL), to make sure all federal funding that’s available is secured, in accordance with the assembly bill and federal and state policy.
  • CDT is the administering entity for the SDEP Grant Program and will use the grant funding to produce the SDEP until November when it expires. The SDEP is intended to build on California’s Broadband for All programs, and identify barriers to digital equity across eight populations: people who live in “covered households (as defined by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act)”; the aging; those who are incarcerated, although not in federal facilities; veterans; people with disabilities or language barriers including being English learners and having limited literacy; racial or ethnic minorities; and rural residents. The SDEP will spell out the state plan to address outcomes in areas including “education, healthcare, digital equity and inclusion, and economic and workforce development.” Contracted resources will support the SDEP through June; afterward, more money will be needed to expand capacity in CDT’s Office of Broadband and Digital Literacy. The money requested in the BCP will fund three Staff Services Manager I positions; five Associate Governmental Program Analyst positions; and one Staff Service Manager III position.
  • Approving the BCP will, it said, let CDT “build capacity beyond the one-time federal funding” and will put the SDEP in place to realize the state’s “vision, objectives, and strategies for digital equity” set out in the Assembly bill. CDT recommends approval. The BCP offers two alternatives. First is receiving $6.2 million from the General Fund “to contract resources in FY 2023-24 and ongoing, with anticipated increases in annual costs for Leveraged Procurement Agreements.” This would, it said, meet Newsom’s goals and the bill’s requirements as well as expediting access to experts — but would require greater General Fund monies than “hiring within civil service” and doesn’t align with state codes that require proposed contracts to show an overall cost savings to the state; and that the services needed can’t be done by using staffers within the civil service system. Second is taking no action. This wouldn’t spend General Fund monies, but would “significantly” impede the state’s ability to stand up the SDEP, to secure the state’s share of $1.44 billion in State Capacity Grant funding, and to obtain part of the $1.25 billion State Competitive Grant Funds for “digital inclusion activities.”
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.