Tag Archives: ab1549

Caltrans floats “Dig Smart” ideas to put more broadband conduit in the ground

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California’s department of transportation, AKA Caltrans, is a step closer to actively collaborating with broadband service providers and local governments to put more conduit in California’s thousands of miles of state highways and make it available. It published a Dig Smart white paper that summarises “dig once” policies that have already been adopted by cities and other states. Those policies are intended to ease the way for telecoms companies to install conduit when road construction or utility excavation projects happen, and to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunity.

The white paper doesn’t offer any hard recommendations, but it does outline policies “which may be investigated” by Caltrans as it moves ahead with implementing a law – assembly bill 1549 – which was passed four years ago…

  • Resource Sharing
    • State [departments of transportation] make agreements with service providers to exchange the use of right-of-way
      or existing conduit infrastructure for the use of fiber optic services
  • Joint-Trench Agreements
    • Require providers of broadband services and other utilities to install infrastructure at the same time, in the same trench, or in the same conduit, and share the cost of installing the infrastructure
  • Moratorium on excavation to preserve new roadway construction and encourage utility coordination planning
  • Encourage the use of trenchless technologies, such as:
    • Horizontal Directional Drilling: A trenchless method of installing underground pipes,
      conduits and cables along a prescribed bore path by using a surface-launched drilling rig
    • Micro-Trenching: Digging a small trench just inches under the road surface along the
      curb line to install fiber optic lines
  • Information Sharing
    • Provide access to fiber, conduit and projects maps
    • Notify telecommunication companies of projects where broadband infrastructure can be
  • Reduce permitting costs and wait time for projects which implement coordinated utility planning

If you’re interested in the topic, the white paper provides an interesting overview of dig once programs at the state, local and federal levels. There’s no timeline for adopting a comprehensive dig once, or dig smart, policy, but the agency is moving in that direction. Caltrans is often criticised for being slow to change, but the flip side is that once its gets moving, it moves relentlessly.

I serve on Caltrans’ conduit task force, and I advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.

Caltrans backs off requiring extra conduit in highway projects, but broadband cooperation door still open

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Caltrans updated its “user guide” for installing broadband infrastructure into highway projects. The big change is the elimination of a shadow conduit requirement – telecoms companies that take advantage of opportunities to install facilities in highway projects are no longer obligated to install extra conduit and fiber for Caltrans, at their own expense.

On the whole, it’s not a killer change. The more independent broadband infrastructure in the ground – Caltrans is nothing if not independent – the better. But Caltrans still has the option to pay for any conduit and fiber it might want to add. Since it doesn’t typically make its telecoms facilities available to private companies, the impact on competition is nil. Except where municipal broadband is concerned. Caltrans will cooperate with local agencies, in its own way, and in theory the less inventory it has, the less there is that might be shared. As a practical matter, though, the impact isn’t significant.

The important thing this is that independent Internet service providers and local agencies still have a clearly defined onramp to Caltrans projects. It takes some initiative, though. Caltrans publishes an interactive map showing where it’s planning to do some work – there’s a link to the current version on Caltrans’ wired broadband page – but it’s up to ISPs and agencies to keep track of what’s going on in their areas. Once a likely project is identified, Caltrans says that “companies or organisations working on broadband deployment may collaborate with Caltrans to install a broadband conduit as part of a project”. The next step is to email the Caltrans single point of contact for the district that’s involved. A link to the current list of those contacts is also on the wired broadband page.

This is all the result of assembly bill 1549, passed in 2016. It didn’t put Caltrans in the broadband business as we originally hoped, but it did open a plainly marked door for cooperation. It’s up to ISPs and local agencies to walk through it.

I served on Caltrans’ conduit task force and I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.

Caltrans opens the road for broadband projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California highway projects are now broadband projects too. Or can be. Caltrans wrapped up development of standard rules and procedures for adding third party conduit to highway construction projects, and published a guide for “Wired Broadband Stakeholders”. It covers “partnering”, which is adding a separate, third party trench to a road project, and “co-location”, which involves Caltrans and a third party both installing conduit in a Caltrans trench.

There are limits on who can participate. Local government are eligible. So are non-profits, cable companies and certified telephone companies. The policy doesn’t exactly rule out small Internet service providers that haven’t gone to the trouble of getting a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the California Public Utilities Commission, but those that haven’t will have an uphill battle that they may not win.

Anyone adding a trench or conduit to a Caltrans project will have to bear the full cost, including design and construction, encroachment permits (which are required) and reimbursement of any extra state money spent by Caltrans as a result.

What Caltrans isn’t doing is getting into the broadband infrastructure business itself, unless a local agency is involved…

Caltrans will not share Caltrans-owned conduit, duct, or fiber optic cable strands with broadband providers. Caltrans may choose to share conduit or fibers with local government agencies for exchanging transportation data and services as part of a regional communications network infrastructure.

Broadband projects will be managed at a district level – Caltrans has 12 districts that cover the state – with a designated, single point of contact to respond to enquiries. A list of eligible projects has been posted, and will be periodically updated.

Caltrans was spurred into action by assembly bill 1549, which was passed in 2016, and by subsequent follow up negotiations last year. The final document is the result of a series of meetings with representatives from broadband companies and regional broadband consortia, including myself.


Caltrans Wired Broadband Facility User Guide, 1 January 2018

Caltrans template broadband construction contract, 1 January 2018

Caltrans template broadband design contract, 1 January 2018


General Caltrans information for wired broadband projects.

Includes links to a map of Caltrans highway projects and district contacts.

I served on Caltrans’ conduit task force and I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.

Caltrans’ broadband conduit policy posted

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Broadband companies and local governments now have standard procedures to follow when they want to add conduit to a Caltrans highway project. Click here for the handbook. I’ll have more details in the coming days, once the dust clears from CES and the start of a new legislative year at the California capitol.

Caltrans agrees to add conduit to highway projects

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Slow is a lot better than Stop.

More broadband conduit might be going into California highway projects over the next few years. A deal was struck between a north coast assemblyman – Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg) – and Caltrans: Wood drops his current effort to write conduit obligations into law, and Caltrans promises to rewrite its policies to be more accomodating to broadband infrastructure. According to a press release from Wood’s office…

“Caltrans has been a willing participant in discussions during the past two years as we have tried to move the needle on expanding Californian’s access to broadband,” said Wood. “Adopting a ‘dig once’ policy for these priority areas is an important advancement and we could not have done it without recognition by Caltrans that they play a meaningful role in facilitating expanded access to broadband.”

“In addition to improving mobility, we realize many benefits to communities and businesses can be realized through collaboration,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “While performing our primary duty of maintaining California’s transportation infrastructure, it makes sense to achieve economies of scale where we can in order to maximize the benefits to Californians.”

By Caltrans installing conduit during planned road work, the cost of installing cable at a future date can be mitigated – often reducing costs to pennies on the dollar because trenches would only be opened once, rather than multiple times…

Last year, progress was made when AB 1549 established the “Broadband Task Force,” a process by which Caltrans brings together stakeholders to identify opportunities where companies can collaborate to install broadband conduit as part of future Caltrans projects. The first and very productive meeting was held with more than a dozen stakeholders earlier this month and regularly scheduled meetings will continue.

I participated in that meeting with Caltrans a couple of weeks ago. There was a genuine desire to cooperate with broadband infrastructure development efforts. But it’s a big organisation that moves slowly and doesn’t always implement policy on a statewide basis – Caltrans’ regional districts have a lot of autonomy.

This agreement is progress. If it means that Caltrans is moving – in its slow but inexorable way – toward being a broadband development player, it’s a win for everyone.

Caltrans open trench notification bill signed by governor

by Steve Blum • , , ,

California governor Jerry Brown signed assembly bill 1549 on Friday, which means it will be law as of New Year’s Day. Authored by assemblyman Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg), the bill requires Caltrans to let everyone who is interested know when there might be an opportunity to install broadband conduit in a highway construction project…

During the project planning phase of a department-led highway construction project that was initiated on or after January 1, 2017, is parallel to the highway, and involves construction methods that are suitable for installing broadband conduit, the department shall notify companies and organizations working on broadband deployment of the project on its Internet Web site to encourage collaborative broadband installations.

It remains to be seen how Caltrans will interpret this new requirement, as well as language which specifically allows private companies and organisations “working on broadband deployment” to collaborate on state highway projects. But it doesn’t require Caltrans to reciprocate.

I was in a meeting with Caltrans officials and assemblyman Wood’s staff in May to discuss an earlier draft of the bill. The people from Caltrans took the position that they were already doing all the notification that was necessary, although the web link they offered turned out to be broken. With a diligent, district by district search, a lot of information can be found about upcoming projects. But to be of any practical use, you would have to take a weekly, if not daily, trawl through the Caltrans website to see if anything new had appeared, and spend a lot of time reading through project descriptions and specifications to figure out if there was, indeed, a genuine opportunity to install conduit as part of the work.

The purpose of AB 1549 is to make Caltrans a more willing and cooperative partner in infrastructure development of all kinds, something the department fought during its unanimous passage through the legislature.. The bill – now, law – requires Caltrans to meet with stakeholders to try to come to agreement on information availability, as well as a defined process for installing conduit in highway projects, both on its own initiative and in collaboration with broadband developers – incumbents, independents and communities alike.

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

Governor Brown contemplates a stack of broadband decisions

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Say yes to the trench.

Although it isn’t as high or as deep as originally hope, governor Brown has a significant pile of broadband-related bills that he’ll have to work through by the end of the month.

My favorite is assembly bill 1549 by assemblyman Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg). It started out as an ambitious attempt to bring Caltrans around to the idea that fiber and conduit are transportation infrastructure too. It won a series of unanimous votes as it moved through the legislature, but in the end it was considerably trimmed back to satisfy Brown, who was more accepting of Caltrans’ opposition to the bill. But even without comprehensive dig once requirements, it does help to open up highway projects to participation by local governments and Internet service providers, and it’ll bring Caltrans to the table to at least discuss better information flow about broadband construction opportunities. It’s progress and it’s welcome. The governor has said he’ll sign it.

Senate bill 745 by senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) extends the deadline for funding broadband facilities in public housing, via the California Advanced Services Fund. Last minute changes to the bill would reverse earlier legislation and ban subsidies for public housing communities served by cable or telephone companies. That mean spirited move is partially offset by the watering down of restrictions on low income people who receive telephone and broadband lifeline subsidies. As originally written, AB 2570, by assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward) would have limited the ability of lifeline customers to change carriers. Now, it just tells the CPUC to come up with its own anti-switching rules and consider imposing the bill’s original 60-day lock-in period. The governor’s opinion of either bill is unknown.

SB 1008 fast tracks an LA public safety wireless network – I wrote about it yesterday.

He also has the remains of the grand compromise to overhaul the California Public Utilities Committee on his desk. There’s more detail here on SB 215 and SB 512, which he’s expected to sign, and SB 62, which has a less certain fate.

A semi-related measure, AB 650 by assemblyman Evan Low (D – Silicon Valley) would give primary responsibility for regulating taxi cabs to a state agency determined by the governor, to level the playing field with transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. Right now, taxis are regulated city by city. The bill contains an implicit assumption that this kind of transportation oversight would be taken out of the CPUC’s hands via AB 2903, which died in the final minutes of the legislative session. One way to resolve dilemma would be for the governor to veto AB 650, but there’s no indication of what he’s going to do.

I advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549, and was involved in SB 745. I’m not a disinterested commentator, and don’t want to be. Take it for what it’s worth.

Caltrans buries dig once conduit bill

by Steve Blum • , , ,

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.

Caltrans shovels hard to avoid digging once

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Proceed with caution.

The only opposition so far to a bill that would require Caltrans to cooperate with broadband projects and notify companies and local governments when opportunities arise to install conduit is coming, not surprisingly, from Caltrans itself.

Assembly bill 1549 by Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg) has so far sailed through the California legislature unanimously. But with the bill sitting in the senate appropriations committee, the final stop before a full floor vote, the state finance department is pushing Caltrans’ bizarre argument that it’s not needed because its record keeping is so screwed up that fixing it would only make it worse…

Caltrans does not keep a complete and up-to-date inventory of all existing conduits within its existing right-of-way. This is partially due to difficulty in obtaining information from utilities that perform work within the right-of-way, and partly due to a backlog in updating Caltrans encroachment permit data. Caltrans is currently exploring an update to the existing encroachment permit system and database, which would capture data regarding conduits carrying fiber-optic cables. As such, a legislative solution to this issue is unnecessary at this time.

The second line of defence is a ballooning estimate of the cost of competent asset management. Caltrans original figure of $100,000 jumped to $915,000 and then rocketed to “millions annually” in the latest published analysis. Of course, no one is mentioning the billions that would be saved by installing conduit cheaply now and not cutting into roadways later: besides the cost of construction, anytime pavement is chopped up, its remaining useful life is reduced by at least 10% and, depending location and circumstances, as much as 40%.

It’s time to stop exploring and start doing.

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

Californian telecoms policy decisions slide out of public view in Sacramento

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Affairs of state.

Several broadband-related bills pending in the California senate were sent to the suspense file by the appropriations committee this week. That’s a standard maneuver that keeps them on ice until near the end of August when the session ends. At that point, a small group of legislative leaders will decide which will move forward and which will not.

A proposal to prevent lifeline telephone customers from switching carriers is one of the bills that’s on hold. Assembly bill 2570 was amended just before legislators took their month long summer break and now says that if low income lifeline subscribers drop a plan, they have to wait two months before being able to claim their existing subsidy with another carrier. Telephone companies – like any company with a subscription-based business model – hate churn and love anything that helps lock down customers. The bill’s author, assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward), has a history of carrying one-sided bills for telcos and this one is no different.

Aside from assembly bill 1549, which would leverage Caltrans’ existing conduit and future road construction for broadband purposes, the other telecoms-related bills relegated to the senate suspense file are relatively minor. At this point. AB 1651 would require the California Public Utilities Commission to post contract information on the web. AB 2120 allows school districts to claim reimbursement for their lobbying efforts at the CPUC. The money usually comes from utilities companies who do business there – it’s called intervenor compensation – who, in turn, pass the costs along to their customers.