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The digital divide

All of the telecom bills currently in the California Legislature assume that the digital divide is a technological problem. It’s not. The digital divide is primarily financial, not technological. Therefore the solution in these bills is not going to close or solve the digital divide.

This page cites two sources on this claim. One is in the position letter shown below and the other is this:

The Truth About the Digital Divide, published September 25, 2019 by Dana Floberg.

“The reality is that broadband adoption — particularly for wired service — is highly dependent on income and race. Poorer individuals and people of color are disproportionately more likely to be disconnected, and disproportionately more likely to adopt if there were more affordable services.

Census data show that low-income people are far less likely to adopt broadband than wealthier people, and that income is one of the strongest predictors of broadband adoption. Study after study after study has confirmed this income divide.”

Here is the position letter I filed with the Legislature on April 26, 2021 on SB 378. Most of this letter could also be used on the other telecom bills.

April 26, 2021

RE: Oppose SB 378 (Gonzalez)

Dear Senators and Assemblymembers,

I must respectfully oppose SB 378 (Gonzalez) related to microtrenching and other possible methods of installation of fiber optic cables for high speed internet access.

In order to solve any problem you first have to identify it. The California Legislature has failed to identify the nature of the so called “digital divide.”

The digital divide is primarily financial, not technological

California state legislators have fundamentally made a mistake in identifying the nature of the so called “digital divide.” The authors of SB 556, AB 537, SB 378 and SB 28 claim that the digital divide is purely technological; in other words the reason people in poor neighborhoods do not have high speed internet access is that there are not enough cell antennas on city streets.

That is not true. The digital divide is primarily financial in nature. Although some people in poor communities can afford a smart phone plus the monthly cell phone plan, most cannot afford a computer and home internet access plan which are required for distance learning.

For a student using “distance learning”, studying and doing his homework, he will have to have a desktop or laptop computer and a residential Internet connection. See for example “CONNECTED CITIES AND INCLUSIVE GROWTH (CCIG), Policy Brief #5, April 2020, COVID-19 and the Distance Learning Gap” by USC Annenberg. (Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California)

The USC Annenberg policy brief also found that,

“As shown, families without residential broadband and a desktop or laptop computer tend to live in lower-income areas, thus validating the association between distance learning resources and wealth at the broader community level.”

(page 2)

Furthermore the telecoms know all about the finances of residents of poor communities and often do not even place cell antennas in those communities. The policy brief stated,

“Limited disposable income often prevents families in these areas from paying for residential broadband, with many opting for more affordable (but more limited) mobile services. However, as previously documented, these are also communities that have been bypassed for investments in new broadband infrastructure, thus leaving families with fewer (and lower quality) residential broadband options to choose from.3

(emphasis added)

3 CCIG Policy Brief #4 (September 2019), available at

The USC Annenberg Policy Brief #5 found that, “Not surprisingly, there is a strong association between wealth and technology resources at home. Only about half of the families in the bottom 20% of the household income distribution have a desktop or laptop computer and subscribe to residential broadband. This compares to about 90% of families in the top income quintile, as shown in Figure 1”

Therefore, allowing the telecoms to place cell antennas on city street light poles, utility poles, and traffic signals without ANY design or location or aesthetic standards or requirements by local governments – even assuming that the telecoms do that in poor communities – will not solve the problem. It will not change the digital divide, which is an underlying financial problem,. People will still be unable to afford a desktop or laptop computer and a residential Internet connection. Different problem, different solution.

The solution is also financial

The solution is for the state to recognize and treat internet access as a public utility and regulate it accordingly, requiring the telecoms to provide service at fair and reasonable rates. And to provide funding for the purchase of a desktop or laptop computer to qualifying (low income) persons.

The State could use some of the billions of dollars it will receive or has recently received from the Federal government through the latest covid stimulus / bailout / infrastructure bill that is earmarked for providing high speed internet access for such a program.

Fiber optic cables to the home or office are safer, faster, and more reliable than wireless

The best way to bring high speed internet to everyone is through wires and fiber optic cables that go all the way to the home or office. This bill fails to provide for that. It appears to provide only for fiber optic cables to street light poles, etc. for the purpose of feeding cell antennas on residential streets. As explained later in this letter cell antennas transmit microwave electromagnetic radiation that is hazardous to human health according to thousands of studies.

Inside the home or office the resident or employer could decide whether to provide hard wired internet access or to use wireless. Californians must have a choice!

Fiber optic cables must be a shared resource

SB 378 should be amended to say that any fiber optic cable installed in the public right of way or in a utility easement will be public property, usable by the local government and any other public utility or internet service provider according to an agreement between that entity and the local government. The current bill fails to provide for this. It appears to allow the installer of the fiber optic cable to own or at least control the cable and its use, excluding all other possible users.

The disadvantages to SB 378, which are to the public, outweigh the advantages, which are private

It could not be more obvious that the sole purpose of this bill is to lower the telecommunications companies cost of installing fiber optic cables notwithstanding the desires of the local government and local residents, damage that this method of installation may do to the street, and availability of other methods of installation that are better for the local government and community for various reasons. The Legislature needs to start thinking in terms of what’s good for Californians and our local governments!! We elect them to do local business. They recognize the unique characteristics of a community that call for a local regulatory point of view.

This bill would take advantage of one disaster to create another. Contrary to the bill’s claims the pandemic does NOT justify eliminating local zoning authority and furthering the proliferation of cell antennas on city streets and near homes. More people are on line already; the current networks have adapted and meet the consumer demand. Further increase in demand for internet access can be SAFELY met through fiber optics networks to the home or office or new cell antennas locally regulated. The safe way to provide wireless high speed internet access that is faster, more reliable, more secure and more energy efficient is with fiber optic cables to the home or office. That’s what the State should be behind.

Pandemic or not, studies show that exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) from cell towers and antennas is hazardous to human health, causing a long list of serious health effects including headaches and cancer (see further in this letter).

Thousands of scientific studies have shown that long term exposure to currently legal amounts of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, also known as radio frequency radiation (RF) radiation or electromagnetic fields (EMF), causes in the human body many serious adverse health effects.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Toxicology Program, 2018 cell phone radiation was found to cause cancer: “clear evidence of cancer.”

The International EMF Scientist Appeal ( from May, 2016 stated that such radiation causes learning and memory deficits and structural and functional changes of the reproductive system.

There was a similar resolution by the California Medical Association in December, 2014.

Cities and counties must retain the ability to implement ordinances and agreements, such as those implemented in the cities of Elk Grove, Mill Valley, Petaluma, Fairfax, Encinitas, Malibu and others in order to protect public facilities and address the specific and unique needs of a local community.

SB 378 is another (along with SB 556, AB 537 and SB 28) outrageous power grab by the telecoms at the expense of all Californians and local governments.

Will the Committees that hear this bill discuss this issue and proposed solution?

Will the full Senate and Assembly discuss this issue and proposed solution?


Mark Graham

Executive Director

Keep Cell Antennas Away