In an October 2015 blog, I urged Congress to pass the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2015, which would have reduced the costs of broadband deployment by requiring most major highway projects to include the construction of broadband conduit. Unfortunately, the proposal did not pass, but a discussion draft version of the House bill, the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2017, has emerged. Congress should implement a “dig once” policy and subsequently increase access to broadband throughout the United States.
If introduced and adopted, the draft legislation 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 draft 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.” In other words, a dig once policy means that the construction costs of digging up hard surfaces along highways to install conduit will be incurred once.
A dig once policy would streamline broadband deployment by reducing the costs of building infrastructure. According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, dig once policies can save 25% to 33% in construction costs in urban areas and approximately 16% in rural areas. By lowering construction and deployment costs for broadband providers, a dig once policy would avail more resources for innovative services, encourage investment in rural and remote areas, and invite competitors into the broadband marketplace.
Not only would a dig once policy help deploy advanced broadband networks in under-served areas and help close the gap of the digital divide, but it would pave the way for next-generation 5G networks. Increasing broadband deployment will create backhaul for the implementation of 5G technology and the emergence of “smart cities.” As I stated in a January 2017 blog, 5G technology will create vast consumer benefits with regard to public safety, health care, and transportation, leading to a projected $275 billion in investment, 3 million jobs, and $500 billion in gross domestic product. A dig once policy would streamline the creation of these economic benefits by supplying a backbone for small and rural towns to rely on when employing 5G and smart technologies.
Dig once is a common-sense bipartisan policy. By lowering the costs of deployment for broadband providers, consumers throughout the United States will enjoy more competition, better service quality, and lower prices.Congress should implement a dig once policy as soon as possible.