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Photo: City of Long Beach
Photo: City of Long Beach

Latina Senator pushes bill to fight the digital divide amid coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the digital divide in Latinx households with limited access to the internet, at a time when it is essential.

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The coronavirus pandemic has proven internet access is a basic right, not a luxury.

Modern society's increased dependence on the internet has been brought into focus by the pandemic. It has forced schools, colleges and workplaces to shut down, with millions of students and employees resorting to working from home.

The problem is not everyone has the same level of access to stay connected. Access to technology was one of the biggest issues of disparity before the global pandemic, and now it has only been amplified, as many Latinx students don’t have access to a computer or internet at home.

To combat this, a California Senator has proposed a bill that prioritizes fiber access for all Californians in underserved communities.

Senator Lena A. Gonzalez (D-33) is the politician behind SB-1130, a bill that would allocate $300 million to fund broadband infrastructure where there are currently no service providers. 

It directs California’s Public Utilities commission to prioritize broadband internet access projects in underserved, high-poverty areas.

“We can do more. My #Broadband4all bill takes on this issue with existing funds - Status quo isn’t good enough anymore,” Senator Gonzales tweeted. 
 

“While most demographic groups have seen a significant increase in broadband subscriptions at home, gaps persist for low-income, less educated, rural, African American, and Latino households,” reads a statement from Senator Gonzales. “Between 54% and 67% of these households had broadband subscriptions in 2017, compared to 74% for all households.”

In California, nearly 22% of residents are unconnected or under-connected to the internet, according to data by The Greenlining Institute, an advocacy group for people of color based in Oakland, California. 

Greenlining says this is usually because internet access is too expensive for many low-income families, creating an affordability barrier.

A barrier that impacts Latinx families the most. Their findings conclude Latinx households are 21% less likely to have access to home internet than White ones.

Photo: Greenlining.org

“The digital divide should have always been a priority for CA. Now, we see the stark inequalities with COVID-19,” continues Senator Gonzalez’s tweet.

Her bill, SB-1130 passed on an 11-2 vote and is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee where it is being heard in June. As it stands, the bill has been ordered to a third reading.

It will need to go to a full vote on the Senate floor before advancing to the Assembly for further consideration.

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