Caltrans buries dig once conduit bill


Too much work.

Under a veto threat from governor Brown, a bill that would have required Caltrans to cooperate with, and even participate in, broadband infrastructure development has been trimmed back to the point where it’s largely symbolic. Not completely: as currently drafted, assembly bill 1549 would still require Caltrans to allow all interested parties – independent Internet service providers and local governments included – to add conduit to state highway construction projects…

For the purpose of supporting fiber optic communication cables, after receiving notification from the department, a company or organization working on broadband deployment may collaborate with the department to install a broadband conduit as part of the project.

“Organization” specifically includes “local governments and nonprofit organizations” as well as telephone and cable companies. Independent ISPs aren’t particularly called out, but it would be hard to argue that they too aren’t companies “working on broadband deployment”. Not impossible, though. Conduit access rules in California largely turn on whether or not an ISP has been certified by the California Public Utilities Commission as a telephone company. It’s a bureaucratic distinction that Caltrans might be inclined to embrace.

The draft language also requires Caltrans to publish project information on its website and consult “with stakeholders” to “develop guidelines to facilitate the installation of broadband conduit on state highway rights-of-way”. It sounds nice, but Caltrans claims it’s already doing that. At least to its own satisfaction, which is an unworkably low standard.

But it’s sufficient for governor Brown, who gave the bill’s author, assemblyman Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg), a take it or leave it choice. In its previously tougher form, AB 1549 enjoyed unanimous, bipartisan support from both houses of the legislature and it is still bouncing between the assembly and senate floor. But further changes are not in the cards. What we see is very likely the best we’ll get for the next couple of years.

I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.