Federal Bill Could Lower Fiber Infrastructure Cost

On October 22, two members of the House of Representatives introduced the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2015. Chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and the Committee’s Ranking Member, Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), submitted the bill, which if passed will require all highway construction projects that receive federal funding to include the installation of conduits for fiber. What’s “dig once”? The idea behind the dig once policy is simple: every time you’re going to build a new road or highway, or make significant repairs to an older one, you put a pipe in place for fiber-optic Internet cables — even if that wasn’t the point of the project in the first place. As the name suggests, you dig one hole, not two. Infrastructure cost is the biggest obstacle to the spread of broadband availability, so it makes perfect sense to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. When you’re building a new section of road, the extra cost and effort necessary to bury a fiber conduit is negligible. A number of municipal governments already employ dig once policies, but there isn’t currently such a policy on the federal level. And in some ways, that’s where it would make the most sense and do the most good. Major Internet conduits tend to follow major roadways, and it’s the federally funded Interstate highways that can take broadband fiber to the rural areas that need it most. Third time’s the charm? The dig once concept makes sense, so it’s a bit confusing and disappointing to learn that similar bills were unsuccessfully introduced in 2009 and 2011. However, one thing in the new bill’s favor is the initial report of the Broadband Opportunity Council, which encourages many different federal agencies to do everything they can to make deployment of public and private broadband networks easier. Although that report isn’t enough to get this bill passed, President Obama will almost certainly offer his support: in 2012, he signed an executive order instructing the Department of Transportation to investigate dig once policies and recommended their use at the municipal level. The fact that the bill has bipartisan sponsorship is also a reason for optimism, indicating party affiliation may not automatically dictate support or opposition to the bill. A Good Start, But… The most expensive part of deploying fiber is the so-called “last mile,” where fiber branches off from a main artery into individual neighborhoods. This bill may not be able to address that problem — so it will still probably be harder for rural residents to get fiber than urban residents. But with that said, this bill seems like a good idea, and industry associations like the American Cable Association and National Cable and Telecommunications Association support the concept. If you think the dig once bill is a good idea, you can write your representative and let him or her know. But if you want to bring broadband into your home a little faster, enter your ZIP code below and see if there are any high-speed Internet plans available to you now.

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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