Californians should have access to equitable, affordable, high-quality broadband service no matter where they live. California is investing billions of dollars in broadband infrastructure including $2 billion in grant funding for projects proposing to bring broadband service to homes, also known as last-mile broadband service. Yet, disadvantaged communities and low-income Californians continue to be left behind, and many who already have broadband availability in their communities are unable to subscribe to service. In 2021, the American Community Survey reported that out of 1.2 million households in California without broadband subscriptions, 80% of those households made less than $74,999 per year, which is considered low-income, while 33% made less than $20,000 per year, which is considered extremely low-income.


The CPUC is administering a $2 billion grant program to bridge this digital divide. Prioritizing last mile broadband deployment to unserved communities that is affordable, specifically for low-income customers, will advance digital equity outcomes.




Policy Principles

California has some of the highest monthly recurring prices in the nation for fixed broadband service plans, with a simple, unweighted average of $157 per month for advertised broadband download speeds of >25-50 Mbps in 2021.[1] Nationwide, the typical monthly broadband bill is $75. For low-income customers who qualify for the $30 federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) subsidy, the typical broadband bill is $45, which still is too high. Major broadband providers in California offer low-income broadband plans with monthly prices ranging from $9.95 to $30.


Currently, the CPUC’s $2 billion grant program does not require grant recipients to offer an affordable broadband plan for low-income customers. We believe grant recipients should be required to offer a broadband plan to low-income customers that are comparable to those offered by the major broadband providers.

[1] This finding is based on the analysis of unweighted average monthly recurring prices based on the FCC Urban Rate Survey dataset.

Although we’ve seen increasing investments in broadband services over the years, marginalized communities continue to be left behind with slow or no broadband service. When determining where broadband grants fund should go, we believe that priority should be given to those deploying broadband service for customers lacking broadband altogether, and those that have access to very slow broadband speeds, speeds below 25 Mbps download (unserved areas). 

Several studies have shown that communications service providers have not made comparable investments in offering and upgrading broadband services in areas with specific demographic characteristics, notably low-income areas.[1] A disparate impact standard (outcome-based) should be used to determine the presence or absence of digital discrimination. We conducted an analysis on digital discrimination using AT&T and Comcast as case studies.[2] The analysis found that low-income households were more likely to be left behind on access to faster broadband speeds. Digital discrimination not only occurs through practices that impact broadband speed, but also in the level of service quality and the price of broadband service available to specific communities.

[1] Communications Workers of America (CWA) and National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) Report, at p. 1, 4, 5-6; USC Annenberg and Price Report, at p. 1, 2, 4, 5; Greenlining Report.

[2] July 2 and July 26, 2021 Comments to the CPUC in Broadband for All Proceeding


Bill Number: SB 156 (2021)

Bill Description: Senate Bill 156 (Chapter 112, Statutes of 2021) expands the state’s broadband investment to bring broadband service to families and businesses.


1. Broadband Infrastructure Deployment (Broadband for All) (R.20-09-001)

Key Filings: Joint Petition for Modification to Protect Low-Income Customers

  • Federal Funding Account (FFA) - Investing $2 billion in broadband infrastructure deployment across California. View the Public Advocates Office overview of the FFA applications received as of September 2023 here.

2. California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) (R.20-08-021)

  View Comments from the Public Advocates Office Here.
Click on Docket number, select “Document” table, then select documents filed by “Cal Advocates”

Key Filings: Comments of the Public Advocates Office Recommending an Inclusive
Definition of "Low-Income Customer.”

3. Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Rulemaking (R.23-02-016)

View Comments from the Public Advocates Office Here.
Click on Docket number, select “Document” table, then select documents filed by “Cal Advocates”.

Key Filings:
Opening Comments on Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Discussing Low-Income and Middle-Class
Broadband Affordability

Comments on the OIR to Consider Rules to Implement the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program

4. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Notice of Proposed Ruled Making on Digital Discrimination

  On December 21, 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a NPRM seeking comments on
addressing digital discrimination.

Key Filings: California Public Utilities Commission comments to the FCC