Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Senate approves telecommunications bill for rural, low-income areas

NORTH COAST – The State Senate voted 33-0 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 1149, legislation by Senator Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) to continue a state grant program that provides telecommunications (new phone lines, cellular coverage, etc) to rural and low-income areas of California where these services either do not exist or are extremely limited.


Specifically, SB 1149 extends the sunset date – from Jan. 1, 2009 to Jan. 1, 2013 – for the Rural Telecommunication Infrastructure Grant Program (RTIG).


The RTIG is funded by an existing surcharge on telephone services (both residential and cellular). Without the Wiggins bill, the program will expire at the first of next year.


The RTIG was implemented in 2001 in order to ensure that all Californians – including those who are low-income and/or live in rural unserved areas – have access to telephone services. The program helps to subsidize the cost of providing telephone services to areas where none currently exist.


Many rural and low-income communities without even basic telecommunication services will continue to be deprived without an extension of the RTIG. Unserved areas on the North Coast have no access to cellular service, access to pay phones, or call boxes in populated tourist destinations such as Bodega Bay, Portuguese Beach, Sea Ranch, etc.


During peak seasons, such locations draw large crowds, and some people have drowned due to the inability of witnesses to call 911 for emergency responders. Furthermore, there are no call boxes, pay phones, or cell service coverage in many of California’s state parks and beaches.


In her testimony Tueday afternoon, Wiggins said that “this program provides a total of $10 million dollars per year, funded by the ratepayer-supported California High Cost Fund B program, to subsidize telephone service to remote, rural, and underserved communities.”


She added: “This program is particularly important in my district where many people don’t have basic telephone service, let alone cell phone service, and they need to call in an emergency situation.”


Now that SB 1149 has been approved by the Senate, the bill next heads to the Assembly for consideration.


Wiggins represents California’s 2nd Senate District, which includes portions or all of six counties: Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Solano and Sonoma.


For more information on SB 1149 or other legislation authored by Wiggins, please visit her Web site: http://dist02.casen.govoffice.com/.


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