Bay Area County adopts plan to expand digital access

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Marin County supervisors passed a plan this week that would allow all county residents access to high-speed internet at home, school and work.

“It’s not just about the internet, it’s more than that,” supervisor Dennis Rodoni said. “It’s about internet quality, cost and literacy for children in school, telehealth and access to government.”

Marin County Chief Information Officer Liza Massey

Denis Noone

The departmental supervisory board voted unanimously in favor of adopting the Digital Marin strategic plan. The plan is the product of more than a year of outreach and research into the nature and depth of Marin’s digital divide — a gap in online access in the county that has come to light during the pandemic.

Board Chair Katie Rice said having a county-wide plan in place – and having all towns and cities in Marin adopt it as well – would provide a front unified. This unit will help the county receive the maximum amount of broadband infrastructure funding out of the $7 billion that California is expected to withdraw from the federal government for this purpose.

“The power of all of us to go in the same direction — and the signing of all the municipalities — will affect our ability to leverage that money,” Rice said.

Most of the money trickling down to counties across the state will go to the so-called “middle mile” of broadband connectivity, county chief information officer Liza Massey said. This refers to regional trunk lines, such as the one that perhaps runs along Highway 101 in Marin, as opposed to the “last mile,” which runs between single-family homes and businesses.

“Affordability is the No. 1 issue,” Massey said. “Internet access costs about 6% more in Marin than the national average of $70 per month.”

Massey added that older people and people with disabilities were also identified as lacking the equipment or skills to log on when needed. Digital literacy training for these populations is included in the plan, she said.

“Additionally, there are first responders who have reported patches where they don’t have quality service,” Massey said. “It hampers their emergency response.” She said 61% of Marin’s first responders reported experiencing slow or out of digital connections every day.

“It’s really disturbing,” she said.

Some residents said they were concerned about the health effects of Wi-Fi connections, including the possible impact of electromagnetic frequencies, or EMFs.

Vicki Sievers, a Marin health advocate who previously protested county 5G rollouts, sat on the plan committee to look at the health aspects of broadband and how to provide safeguards in the plan.

Massey said part of the problem with building Wi-Fi is that the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates things like cell towers and broadband internet connections, relied on federal law. on Telecommunications 1996 for its decisions.

The 1996 FCC law did not address “more than 11,000 pages of reports of adverse health impacts,” Massey said. “It’s terribly outdated. They put the whole question aside, and it’s up in the air.

(c)2022 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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