$7,174 per home subsidy was provided to serve Paradise Valley.

Opining on the Digital Divides in Silicon Valley

[Note, this author has no dog in this hunt other than wanting to maximize the return on limited public monies.]
The efforts of the City of San Jose to ensure students have access to online schooling cannot happen fast enough. As importantly, San Jose will not solve the broader issue of accessibility throughout the County.  Below are a couple of ideas on how to accelerate the availability of low-cost broadband, specifically for educational uses.
The other side of Silicon Valley and its rural roads.
The other side of Silicon Valley and its rural roads.

Before getting to those ideas, I continue to question whether accessibility to broadband is an issue for residents of the cities of Santa Clara County (see this link (PDF) for my analysis on the city of San Jose’s efforts to build Community Wi-Fi, which is referenced in the above video) and contend that the focus needs to be around affordability, access to devices, education on how to use the devices, etc.

An underlying premise in this article is that, from a policy perspective, the County and SCCOE should be taking the lead in ensuring all students have access to broadband since school districts cross city limits.

The Virtual School is Where the Student Is

Post-COVID-19, the school of the future will continue to have a virtual element that delivers educational materials where the student is and when they are ready to learn. At the same time, content should be curated and limited, just as it is in today’s brick and mortar schools. .Specifically, instead of delivering the entire Internet to a student, the paradigm for an online school should be that of a walled garden.
This is similar in concept to the pre-Internet days of Cable in the Classroom.

Donate your old computer and help close the digital device divide.  Device Donation Day is Saturday, May 23rd, and Wednesday, May 27th – details are at

Utilize Existing Assets to Work with Private Providers

A wireless link installed by Moreland Little League creating a public WiFi hotspot.
A wireless link installed by Moreland Little League creating a public WiFi hotspot.

Utilize existing school district fiber and facilities to allow private providers to install base stations for new wireless networks. By doing so, it should be possible to use private investment, instead of public dollars such as what is being done with the City of San Jose’s Community Wi-Fi network.

About a decade ago, the Moreland School District and Moreland Little League proved this at a conceptual level when we created a public Wi-Fi hotspot and connected surveillance cameras to the school district’s fiber network. The installation and equipment were done in a matter of weeks at the league’s cost. The load on the network is minimal as the use is mostly off-peak.
Similarly, a press release from Sail Internet explains how they worked with Gardner Health in Alviso to provide more broadband choices in that North San Jose neighborhood.
Common Networks is another local provider offering high-speed wireless service in the South Bay that could also use school district facilities to expand the number of broadband offerings.

[Note, Sail Internet and Common Networks are only intended as examples of potential providers and do not mean endorsement. There are probably no technical reasons why the school districts couldn’t allow more than one provider on their properties.]
In exchange for providing facilities, the districts could obligate those carriers to provide a “no-cost” educational tier. In other words, any student, would be able to receive service at no cost but would be limited to the school’s walled garden offering (no random viewing of YouTube or Facebook videos). Similarly, this might be done for other governmental services as well (free access, but only to government services).
The ISPs would also be allowed to provide and charge for commercial services, including Internet access over their networks.
The devil is in the details of contracts and ensuring that the districts/SCCOE do not violate e-rate rules, ameliorate concerns about wireless, etc. This approach is possible and there are at least two broadband ISPs in other parts of the country that have partnerships with school districts and/or counties to pool assets and extend broadband.
[Also, see this example of how broadband could be bundled with affordable teacher housing and more

Be Targeted and Judicious with Investment of Public Monies in Closing Digital Divides

The rural portions of the county are where access to broadband infrastructure is often lacking.  Some portions of the county are receiving government funding to extend broadband to the unserved homes, but it doesn’t cover all areas and isn’t always directed at those who cannot afford broadband service.
The government should be cautious as to how it spends public dollars to extend broadband as new options are literally on the horizon (pun intended). Starlink, which is set for launch later this year could solve many of the rural access challenges and may prove formidable someday in urban areas.
Here is a recent overview of Tesla’s cousin company and its potential impact on broadband,
That said, fiber will probably remain the ultimate goal for connecting people, but there is at least one local example where government monies are subsidizing owners of multi-million-dollar homes.
In 2017, the CPUC approved a subsidy of approximately $7,200 per home for a 150 home development in Paradise Valley, just west of Morgan Hill.
$7,174 per home subsidy was provided to serve Paradise Valley.
$7,174 per home subsidy was provided to serve Paradise Valley.
These are multi-thousand square foot homes in a neighborhood of tennis courts, swimming pools, and vineyards.
Paradise Valley a 150 rural Silicon Valley development with subsidized broadband.
Paradise Valley a 150 rural Silicon Valley development with subsidized broadband. Image courtesy of Google Maps
It is said that fiber to the home increases a home’s worth by approximately $5,000, but given the proximity to Silicon Valley and the adoption of telework, it wouldn’t be surprising if the domiciles in this development increase by much more than the subsidy provided.

Fiber Owned by the Home – a PACE approach to a Broadband Build-Out

So, building on the idea that the property owner ultimately receives the benefit from broadband, here is a concept that treats the broadband asset more like a condominium association.
This type of approach was first proposed by Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu and Google’s Derek Slater in a 2008 whitepaper.
The property owners would own the last-mile connection in a cooperative-type arrangement and would finance it via long-term, PACE-type funding, such as is done with solar installations.
A few years ago, this author spoke to the Santa Clara County Assessor’s office and was told that the concept looked feasible, but it would require action by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to allow this sort of asset to be included as part of the real property.
There would be no financial risk to the County with this type of approach, but by including the fiber as part of the real property, it would allow a private, long-term financing mechanism.
Advertisement

2 thoughts on “Opining on the Digital Divides in Silicon Valley”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s