Newsom’s California fiber dream
This morning, California Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled an audacious budget whose crown jewel is a plan to pump $7b into medium-haul fiber links that will link every community in the state, no matter how remote or rural.
If passed — it needs a simple majority in the legislature — this will make California home to America’s most extensive state broadband network, and reverse decades of ISP lobbying against the provision of modern telcoms infrastructure to replace 20th century copper lines.
The plan uses state money to bring fiber to the town limits, then creates a pool of low-cost, long-term loans — repayable over 30–40 years — that local governments tap to build their local fiber grids, according to their local needs, under local management and ownership.
And, as with the electrification effort of the New Deal, the plan creates an expert agency that can advise towns on designing those networks and train local people on maintaining them.
This is the patient money the market won’t provide. Fiber broadband investment is future-proofed and may supply all Californians’ digital needs into the 22nd Century (!), and telcos — who balk at investments that take a mere 10 years to pay off — don’t make those bets.
Take Frontier, whose bankruptcy revealed how they chose NOT to make $800m in profit building out rural fiber because the analysts whose judgments controlled its share-price disapproved of long-term investment (Frontier’s execs were paid in stock).
ISP monopolists have fought with increasing desperation to prevent Americans from accessing fiber. From fairy tales about 5G (which needs fiber!) to fanciful ideas about satellite service (slow, asymmetrical and unable to get any faster without repealing the laws of physics).
The truth is, we know how to make fast, future-proof data networks: fiber.
Americans pay some of the highest charges for some of the lowest broadband speeds in the rich world, and California is among the worst US states. Newsom’s plan will sweep California into the 21st century, and not just the big cities — the whole state.
Asia’s rich countries — China, South Korea — have laid a billion fiber lines. The world is already designing applications for symmetrical gigabit connections and beyond. Without fiber, California doesn’t just face a digital divide — it faces a speed chasm.