On Wednesday October 28, 2015, the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology within the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on “Breaking Down Barriers to Broadband Infrastructure Deployment.” The hearing will focus on the bipartisan draft legislation introduced by Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-CA) entitled “The Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2015.”
The proposal would require State governments to evaluate the need for broadband conduit with respect to covered highway construction projects. If there is any anticipated need in the next 15 years, the legislation would implement a so-called “dig once” policy. Along highways where conduit is needed, the Department of Transportation will install “an appropriate number of broadband conduits” at a size that is “consistent with industry best practices and is sufficient to accommodate potential demand.” With this legislation, the construction costs of digging up hard surfaces along highways to install conduit will only be incurred once.
If adopted, this proposal should increase broadband deployment, investment, and innovation, and consumers will reap the benefits. In Ranking Member Eshoo’s press release, she cited a GAO report which found that “dig once” policies save roughly 25 to 33 percent in construction costs in urban areas and roughly 16 percent in rural areas. By reducing the costs of broadband deployment for ISPs, this legislation will avail resources for other innovative services.
Additionally, this legislation could play a key role in providing next-generation broadband access to rural areas and ending or reducing a “digital divide” between rural and non-rural areas. Because this proposal would lower the costs of deploying Internet access, broadband providers will be more inclined to invest in small towns and upgrade old networks. This legislation will also pave the way for more cell towers in remote areas to deliver faster mobile broadband to the consumers who depend on it. To the extent there are any legitimate federalism concerns, they should be resolved as the legislation moves forward.
This legislation is important to spur even further broadband deployment in the United States and has been on the table for several years. Ranking Member Eshoo deserves credit for her determination. She introduced similar legislation in 2009 and 2011, but hopefully this will be the bill that gets through Congress with the support of Chairman Walden. By lowering the costs to broadband providers, consumers will enjoy more competition, better service quality, and lower prices.