Virtual Broadband Forum screenshotThe California Reinvestment Coalition, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and representatives from state agencies, community groups, US Bank and Citizen’s Business Bank held a virtual forum Tuesday to discuss the realities rural Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities in California face with limited access to broadband services, and discuss attainable solutions for increasing access.

CRC Chief Executive Officer Paulina Gonzalez-Brito opened the forum, called the Interagency Forum on Broadband Access and Financial Institutions in Rural Communities, by stressing how the digital divide has disproportionately impacted healthcare and education access for many marginalized people in California.

“Lack of access to broadband still disproportionately impacts BIPOC families, both in urban and rural areas of the state,” Gonzalez-Brito said. “The result is limited possibilities for economic development and severely limited access to education, healthcare, public benefits and financial products and services.”

The discussion was divided into two panels, moderated by the President and CEO of California Emerging Technology Fund Sunne McPeak and FDIC Communities Affairs Specialist Erwin Reeves. The first panel centered on how community groups and state agencies can address gaps in digital equity and pathways to expand broadband access, while the concluding panel focussed on banks’ involvement in community-based broadband programs.

Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, Tribal Digital Village, underscored how the lack of access to broadband service puts families living on reservations at economic risk.

“There are some really simple things that people overlook on not having access to the Internet,” Rantanen said. “If we get down to the lowest common denominator and work our way back up, banking is definitely a key.”

“Part of that solution is bridging that divide and bridging partnerships with local banks,” Eduardo Gonzalez, Interim Executive Director at CSU, Fresno Office of Community and Economic Development, added.

Other speakers included Kaina Pereira, Senior Advisor at the Business Development The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), and Scott Adams, Deputy Director for Broadband and Digital Literacy California Department of Technology.

CRC Research Analyst Jamie Buell gave an overview of data collected in CRC’s report, “California Communities’ Needs and the Role of Financial Institutions,” noting that “further collaboration between banks, community groups and federal/state agencies is needed to understand existing gaps in service and how the different institutions can effectively fill in the gaps in service using their resources and expertise.”