Federal program working to bridge the digital divide comes to Kern County

Federal program working to bridge the digital divide comes to Kern County

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) – Kern County officials are working to bridge the digital divide with funding from the federal government. They hope to get grant money, which will be used to improve broadband infrastructure throughout the country.

Federal officials established the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment, or BEAD, program after seeing a need for connectivity in communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kern County Fiscal and Policy Analyst Katelyn Zenger says the grant funding helps close gaps in Internet access to improve opportunities for residents, businesses and schools.

“So our office is already working with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools to help reach underserved areas based on virtual capabilities identified during the COVID-19 school lockdowns,” Zenger said. “However, this program, the BEAD program really provides an opportunity for every resident to directly impact our community.”

The BEAD program provides just over $42 billion to states that distribute the money to counties based on need. That’s why Zenger says it’s important to have accurate information when it comes to Kern County residents and their internet service. She says that in this way they can better address the different needs of each community.

“Kern is geographically the third largest county in the state. And we’re made up of a lot of different terrain, we have desert mountains, river beds, valley floor, all of this terrain comes with a unique suitability for high-speed internet,” Zenger said. “And with that, it takes time and adequate funding to really address and support the communities across the board.”

Zenger’s office is asking every resident to get involved in the process by ensuring their information is correct on the National Broadband Map.

“That simple act, which will only take a few minutes, can have a really big impact on the broadband infrastructure we can provide to our country going forward,” Zenger said.

The possibility of another funding source to promote fiber optic infrastructure in Kern County would be separate from SiFi Networks’ work to expand Internet access.

The company approached the City of Bakersfield and Kern County earlier this year about a $400 million dollar investment to improve quality broadband access. Both agreements have since been approved at no cost to taxpayers.

Zenger says projects spurred by grant program funding will remain separate from SiFi Network’s operations and projects.

“This BEAD funding is independent and separate,” Zenger said. “It’s going to be able to finance projects beyond anything currently in the works or existing, and there will be guidelines to follow.”

Zenger encourages residents without Internet access to visit their local library to verify or challenge any broadband services listed for their residence on the National Broadband Map.

You can learn more about the process on Kern County’s website.

To make sure your home or business is up to date on the National Broadband Map, enter your residential address or intended location. If the information already listed is not correct, press the ‘challenge’ button and fill in the form that appears.

The deadline to enter your broadband information is 13 January 2023.

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