Summer 2003

Yellow Shirt Alert! California Communities Get Their Policy On
by Maricela Carlos

Community Technology Sacramento Day group picture

On March 25, 2003, over 100 energetic individuals clad in bright yellow shirts descended on the California state capital as participants in Community Technology Sacramento Day. These yellow-shirted activists were community technology leaders and supporters of all ages, who came from all over the state to take part in the exciting policy making-process. As part of an effort to rally underserved communities to be active participants in the digital revolution, the California Community Technology Policy Group (CCTPG) organized this successful second annual Sacramento Day event.

The day’s goals were to: (1) raise participants’ awareness of the need and opportunity for them to become involved in policy-making; (2) help participants to be comfortable with the idea that they are often the best advocates for their communities; and (3) teach participants how to be strong advocates for their organizations and their communities.

The day began with an informative training session that taught participants about the policy-making process and how to effectively communicate with their legislators to advocate for their issues. Some of the issues participants raised included: increasing access to technology, particularly for new and/or inexperienced users; getting funding and other resources to provide technology programs and services in their communities; and getting youth involved in using technology for job training purposes.

CCTPG was also honored to have other guests in attendance, including State Senator Debra Bowen, to whom CCTPG presented an award for her legislative leadership in the area of community technology. Sen. Bowen has sponsored several community technology bills for which CCTPG played an active advocacy role. SB 1863, which was signed into law last year, allows the utilization of a special fund, the California Teleconnect Fund (CTF), to provide discounted telecommunication services to schools, hospitals, and community-based organizations.

In addition, Commissioner Loretta Lynch from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) joined the day’s activities. The CPUC is a state agency that regulates privately-owned telecommunication companies and, as such, is a critical player in all telecommunications policy decisions in California. Commissioner Lynch reviewed three key ways the CPUC planned to modify the CTF. According to Lynch, community-based organizations will be eligible for a 50% discount on their telecommunications expenses, the application process will be streamlined, and it will be unnecessary for users of the CTF to reapply.

On a related topic, Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh spoke to the group about Assembly Bill 855, which would develop a digital divide fund by taking 15% of revenue generated from leasing state-owned property to telecommunication companies.

Armed with this knowledge of the latest updates in the telecommunication policy scene, participants had the opportunity to brush up their advocacy skills as they role-played their upcoming legislative visits. Once participants got the opportunity to practice their new skills with their assigned teams, they spent the afternoon visiting their legislators. By the end of the day, participants had visited 80 State Senators and Assembly members—over one-third of the State legislators—twice as many visits as last year.

The community technology contingent was especially visible walking through the State Capitol building. Passersby could be overheard commenting on the bright yellow t-shirts. At the end of the day, the yellow shirted crews were tired but excited at the day’s activities. One participant commented, “It was nice to find that there are people actively involved in pursuing the issues of accessible technology.”

While CCTPG’s efforts will continue throughout the year, Sacramento Day participants are all looking forward to Sacramento Day 2004 when they can regroup and keep advocating for equitable access to technology so that all of our communities can take part in the digital revolution. "We visited our representative’s office, and he remembered us from last year,” said a participant. “We are looking forward to delivering our message again next year.”

Maricela Carlos is a Program Associate at Community Partners and is an active member of the California Community Technology Policy Group (CCTPG).

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