Earlier this week, an important issue regarding Internet speeds and infrastructure resurfaced in Congress with the introduction of the Broadband Conduit Act of 2017. Better-known as the “Dig Once” bill, the act aims to encourage right-of-way access for broadband expansions on just about any federal highway, road or sidewalk.
The proposal would make widespread fiber deployment a standardized, cheaper process—one that could improve broadband investments in rural areas that are historically subject to high costs and restricted by bureaucracy. How?
For starters, the policy would require state officials to assess the need for fiber optic conduit in any federally-funded highway construction project. If this assessment finds that there will be an anticipated need for additional conduit within the next 15 years, states would be required to install new conduit during the construction process. These projects would also be required to include enough conduits to “accommodate multiple broadband providers.”
Surprisingly, few people realize how long this policy idea has been in the making. US Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif) first proposed “Dig Once” legislation back in 2009, gaining support from consumer advocacy groups. Although the bill never made it past Congress, it has since proven to be an emblem of bipartisan support in an era when Democrats and Republicans fundamentally disagree on many Internet-related topics, such as net neutrality.
In a recent hearing regarding broadband deployment, House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blackburn cited Eshoo’s proposal as a potential solution to “facilitate the deployment of communications infrastructure,” according to ArsTechnica. However, it’s important to note that her statement did not explicitly endorse Eshoo’s idea, and instead, stated that the subcommittee would consider a “discussion draft” of all “federal assets.”
Only last year, the Dig Once policy was left off another broadband bill, raising speculation from community broadband consultant Stephen Blum. “Dig once requirements are often opposed by deep pocketed incumbent telephone and cable companies, who build their own infrastructure and would prefer that smaller competitors not have access to cheap and freely available conduit,” he wrote. “Transportation agencies and public works people will also tend to oppose dig once rules on occasion, because it adds costs and extra hassles to road projects that are already expensive and complicated.”
But the question remains: will Democrats and Republicans come to a vote? Only time will tell.