Commissioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, the California Broadband Task Force issued its final report Thursday, warning that slow Internet speeds threaten to limit the state's competitive ability.

Broadband connectivity varies greatly, the report found, with 95 percent of Los Angeles residents able to subscribe to broadband services at 10 MB or greater, while only 6 percent of San Francisco Bay Area residents could. 1.4 million Californians have no broadband access.

"We now know where California's unserved communities exist, and we must use creative strategies and public and private partnerships to bring broadband to these areas as soon as possible," said Dale Bonner, co-chairman of the task force and secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

AT&T Praises Report

Ken McNeely, president of AT&T California, issued a statement commending the task force for its work. "AT&T sees an exciting future with broadband delivering a range of new services; educational opportunities through distance learning; and expanded, more affordable health care to more Californians. An improved digital infrastructure Relevant Products/Services will also bring new jobs and ensure the Golden State remains a leader in driving new, innovative technologies," he said.

Among the task force's recommendations: expanding the broadband infrastructure to all California residents and removing obstacles to private-sector investment in broadband. It recommended streamlining bureaucratic procedures, a suggestion that earned high marks from the telecom industry.

"We are especially pleased the task force has recommended the development of a new permitting standard that will help improve the speed with which broadband is deployed in cities across the state," McNeely said.

"A disproportionate percentage of low-income families do not have a computer at home, suggesting affordability is a barrier," the 83-page task-force report stated.

Ubiquitous Broadband

The report came up with three overarching goals for California's broadband strategy: the state must ensure a "ubiquitous and affordable broadband infrastructure" using a range of technologies; California must be a driver in the development of applications that "produce the greatest economic, educational and social benefits for the state"; California must construct a "next-generation broadband infrastructure" to position the state as a leader in a knowledge-based economy.

Unlike roads, electricity and water, California's investment in broadband should not be limited to physical infrastructure, but instead should include policies to increase adoption of broadband technologies. Increasing both access to and use of broadband will build economic capital, strengthen public-safety resources, improve living standards, expand educational and health care opportunities, and raise the levels of civic engagement and governmental transparency, the report said.

The task force made seven recommendations, including building out a high-speed infrastructure to all Californians; developing new permit standards to encourage collaboration between Internet providers; increasing consumer adoption of Internet and computer technology; rewarding broadband research and innovation; creating a statewide e-health network Relevant Products/Services; forming educational partnerships to increase broadband use; and continuing the California Broadband Initiative and other leadership programs.