REGION — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors moved toward expanding high-speed internet access for residents, directing the chief administrative officer on Wednesday to work with service providers and regional stakeholders on ways to speed up the review process for new broadband-related projects.
The CAO will report back with recommendations within 120 days, according to Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer, who made the expanded broadband proposal.
Lawson-Remer said some communities in the county that lack broadband are “internet deserts,” while a lack of better service affects communities of color, along with low-income and rural residents. She added that without high-speed internet access, it’s difficult to complete school tasks, work remotely, stay in touch with family or access health care.
According to Lawson-Remer’s office, a streamlined process means projects can be eligible for certain grants, including those for broadband equity. The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated $42.5 billion for last-mile broadband connectivity “to every unserved and underserved household and business across the United States,” she said.
California received $1.86 billion through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. To receive funding, projects must be completed within 18 to 24 months if they are exempt from the state Environmental Quality Act, Lawson-Remer said.
Lawson-Remer said the county now has a self-certification program to allow faster timelines for project maintenance if a provider opts into the county’s program on a yearly basis. However, the county doesn’t have a strategy to speed up the construction of new broadband projects.
Broadband permitting can take “months of plan review, comments and revisions prior to project approval,” according to Lawson-Remer’s office. “These delays can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and increase the risk that inflation will drive up the costs of building materials and labor.”
Along with colleagues Jim Desmond and Monica Montgomery Steppe, Lawson-Remer’s proposal received praise from two industry representatives during a public comment period.
Christine Moore, an executive director with AT&T, said the board’s decision will result in additional opportunities for investment.
Alberto Velasquez, government affairs manager with Cox Communications, said better connectivity has been a focus of recent government funding. Velasquez said that given California’s size and multiple governmental entities, permitting will be a major challenge. He added that more local broadband projects will help entities like his that receive funding overcome obstacles.
Wednesday’s vote was 3-0. Board Chairwoman Nora Vargas was in Washington, D.C., to meet with federal leaders, and Supervisor Joel Anderson was absent due to illness, according to the board clerk.