In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the California senate’s transportation and housing committee approved assembly bill 1549, a proposal carried by north coast assemblyman Jim Wood. I was among those at the hearing and prepared to speak on its behalf, but we took our cue from committee chair Jim Beall (D – Silicon Valley) who, in polite words, hinted there’s no opposition, we’re all in favor, so make it quick. So we did. What I would have said was…
Assembly bill 1549 does three, very important things.
First, it is a clear policy statement that broadband facilities – conduit and fiber – are integral elements of California’s transportation infrastructure, and Caltrans’ mission includes proper stewardship of this important resource.
Second, it creates a level playing field for companies, organisations and local governments as they work together to develop broadband infrastructure and close the digital divide. Easy and understandable access to information about publicly owned broadband-related infrastructure – with due regard for proper safeguards – encourages competition and allows local policy makers to independently promote public interests.
Third, it will reduce both costs and congestion over the long run. The simple expedient of installing inexpensive conduit – by private companies if there’s immediate interest, by Caltrans if there’s not – during construction will reduce, if not completely eliminate, the need to cut into those roads in the future. It’ll be cheaper to upgrade broadband infrastructure, roads will last longer and maintenance costs will be lower, and there will be fewer traffic disruptions.
On the whole, Caltrans has been very willing to cooperate with local governments and telecommunications companies, but that cooperation has not been neither consistent or universal. From a broadband perspective, construction practices, permit procedures and access to information varies from district to district, office to office and project to project. Establishing a clear, statewide policy will give everyone – broadband, transportation and public works people alike – a simple rulebook to follow so they can work together to build, maintain and improve California’s critical infrastructure. All of it. We respectfully ask you to vote aye on AB 1549.
And so they did. Next stop for AB 1549 should be the senate appropriations committee.