Communications Infrastructure in California
California companies have pioneered the communications inventions that are now an everyday part of life for billions across the globe. Everything from placing a call on an iPhone, to searching on Google, to streaming a movie on Netflix has its roots in California. While these companies have become well-recognized names, the communications infrastructure that these products rely on is less familiar to consumers. Much in the same way that we expect lights in our homes to turn on with the flip of a switch, we now expect and need our internet connectivity to be functioning at high capacity both at home and on the go.
A vast network of cell towers, small cells, and fiber optic cable serves as the foundation on which communications platforms are built. This has been made possible because private telecommunications companies have spent over $2 trillion nationally since 1996 on wired and wireless infrastructure, enabling the real-time high-speed internet connectivity (broadband) that we enjoy today. As the pace of innovation in wireless broadband technology has accelerated and will become even more rapid—while 5G is still being deployed in the U.S., work is already underway to create standards for 6G technologies—there is now an ever present need to update infrastructure to make it capable of handling requests for more data at faster speeds. With more internet usage coming through mobile devices, the need for continuous broadband connectivity outside of the home is paramount.
However, updates in regulatory policies, local ordinances, and how this critical infrastructure is permitted by local jurisdictions have not kept pace with innovation. Too often, infrastructure providers are met with onerous local permitting processes and additional costs that make the simplest upgrade projects infeasible. As such, California and some of its cities are at risk of falling behind other areas of the U.S. in terms of providing wireless high-speed internet coverage—limiting the state’s ability to fully close the digital divide while creating new gaps as more and more aspects of the economy move online.
To highlight the economic importance of broadband infrastructure, this research will explore the often unseen benefits of communications infrastructure in California and shine a light on the policy challenges that impede companies’ abilities to locate and build new communications infrastructure. Finally, we will propose multiple policy solutions at the state and local levels that can catalyze more private investment in communications infrastructure.