Six Californias, six challenges drawn by broadband adoption map

20 July 2015 by Steve Blum
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Overall, California’s broadband adoption rate isn’t bad, compared to much of the U.S. or other countries. That’s one of the many pieces of good news in a study released last week in conjunction with the announcement of a federal pilot program aimed at increasing broadband access in public housing. The map above shows the pattern, with dark green coastal areas doing best and the red south poorly.

One thing that struck me about the map, though, was that it also does a fair, if rough, job of outlining the six proto-states proposed last year by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper in his failed quest to break up California. Whatever you think of his Six Californias initiative drive (or the silly names proposed for the new states), you have to give him credit for identifying critical economic gaps between regions.

The differences in broadband adoption rates highlight those gaps. If you’re on the coast, or near it, and between San Francisco and Los Angeles, you’re probably doing okay. You and your neighbors are more likely than most to be connected to the Internet and, more importantly, to the Internet economy. Those would have been the new states of Silicon Valley and West California (even though it’s east of most of the others).

Same story if you’re in the strip of counties that run from the Marin coast, east through Sacramento and on up into Mother Lode country. Draper wanted to call it North California; I think Boomerstan would have been more apt.

South California – San Diego and the Inland Empire – looks almost as good, both in terms of broadband use and the general economy (although the economic gap is probably bigger than the broadband picture would lead you to think).

The two relative failures are, as Draper drew it, Central California (the San Joaquin Valley and the east side of the Sierra) and Jefferson – the far north of the state (and the only name with any sense or sense of history behind it)).

California is still whole, but the whole is made up of distinct pieces. Improving broadband availability is important where ever you are, but it’s a different problem, with different solutions – and urgency – depending on which region you call home.