Dig Once, Gain Broadband Later

Here’s a simple, bipartisan idea for spreading broadband to more places.

When broadband providers construct a network, they need to string wires along utility poles or bury them underground in protective tubing called conduit. And providers want to minimize the disruption to residents caused by these big builds. “Dig once” policies mandate the installation of an oversized conduit bank by any new network builder within the right-of-way, to accommodate future users when new roads are being built or opened for maintenance and conduit is not already in place.

The expense and complexity of digging up streets to install new networks may increase the cost and slow the pace of broadband network investment and deployment. In the context of the U.S. federal highway system, the U.S. GAO points out that “dig once” policies can save up to 25–33% in construction costs in urban areas and roughly 16% in rural areas. Not only is this an attractive option to providers who save the time and expense of digging, but it has the added benefit of reducing future disruption for local citizens (who probably don’t want to deal with a future road closure if it can be avoided). 

Last week, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) introduced the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2015. This follows the introduction of the Streamlining and Investing in Broadband Infrastructure Act in the Senate by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Cory Gardner (R-CO). The bills both focus on the adoption of “dig once” policies for federal highway projects. The goal of the bills is important -- to reduce barriers to broadband deployment and further infrastructure investment, including in rural areas of the country.

Deploying a large-scale broadband network from scratch is hard. It requires considerable planning, negotiations with municipal officials, property owners, incumbent network and utility providers, contract reviews, etc. And all that has to happen before a network builder can put a shovel in the ground or string a wire.

From the White House to the state house and throughout communities across America, policymakers are increasingly focused on what it takes to deploy high-speed broadband networks. “Dig once” is one great way of doing that.