Tag Archives: open trench

At least some broadband policy can cross party lines in congress

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There are aspects of broadband policy that are getting bipartisan support in the U.S. congress. Not anything to do with privacy rules or network neutrality or common carrier status for broadband, of course. But there are common views regarding some of the nitty gritty details of broadband infrastructure deployment.

A house of representatives sub-committee that deals with communications and technology issues looked kindly on two draft bills, both of which are largely revivals of proposals that didn’t make it out of congress last year. One is backed by the sub-committee chair, Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee), and the other by Silicon Valley representative Anna Eshoo (D – Palo Alto).

Blackburn wants to make it easier to build telecommunications infrastructure on federal property and particularly by…

1) creating an inventory of federal assets that can be used to attach or install broadband infrastructure;
2) requiring all landholding agencies to use common templates when leasing space for wireless broadband attachments; and
3) streamlining processes for communications facilities location applications at the Department of Interior and Forest Service.

Eshoo is back with dig once legislation that would require the installation of communications conduit in federally-funded highway construction projects. There was a similar degree of cross-aisle cooperation about this time last year, with Eschoo’s language getting rolled into a bill that also included much of what Blackburn is pushing, but the dig once provisions were subsequently dropped. Not that it made much difference, since gridlock at the U.S. capitol eventually killed the whole package.

Another broadband policy blast from the past is also making the rounds at the U.S. senate, but this one is only backed by democrats. Six blue state senators, led by Cory Booker (D – New Jersey) and not counting a Californian among them, floated a draft bill that would prevent state governments from “prohibiting or substantially inhibiting” cities or counties or other public provider from getting into the telecoms business. It would do legislatively what the Federal Communications Commission was blocked by a court from doing administratively, when it tried to preempt municipal broadband restrictions in North Carolina and Tennessee.

As it happens, the Tennessee case also caught Blackburn’s attention at the time. She proposed a bill that would have done the exact opposite and definitively prevented the federal government from involving itself in state-level muni broadband policy. You don’t need a crystal ball to know what would happen to Booker’s bill in the extremely unlikely event that it ever escapes the senate and lands in Blackburn’s committee.

Competitive ISPs need access to conduit, but it has be there in the first place

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The need for open trench notification policies is particularly acute when a local agency restricts future cuts into a given street, after the completion of a trenching or repaving project. But the need to rapidly respond to changes in the broadband industry and market conditions means that a new, or newly expanding, competitive Internet service provider is a disadvantage if, say, a five year moratorium was put into effect on a particular street three years ago, before the company was even founded.

San Francisco puts a five year moratorium on utility trenching and other excavations after work is done on a street, which is one of the many factors Webpass is citing as reasons for the California Public Utilities Commission to remove restrictions that AT&T places on use of its existing conduit

In many areas, such as San Francisco, the ability to use aerial facilities is limited, which requires Webpass to install a good portion of its facilities, such as fiber optic cabling, underground. While Webpass has authority from the [CPUC] to construct its own underground conduit systems and other support structures…it is generally uneconomical and, due to the imposition of moratoriums and other restrictions on trenching within roadways, often highly impractical, to do so. Therefore, like other CLECs, Webpass must rely on the availability of unused capacity in existing utility infrastructure, such as that owned by AT&T California.

Competitive carrier access to incumbents’ conduit is required in California, but, as Webpass’ fight shows, it is not always graciously granted or, to be fair, always possible. And even if it were, there’s still the problem of what to do if there’s a street cut moratorium that results from a project that didn’t include conduit. If it’s not there, it can’t be accessed.

That’s why shadow conduit policies and close review of conduit capacity when encroachment permits are granted is necessary. If a utility – telecoms or electric – wants to install conduit in a street and trigger a street cut moratorium, then one of the requirements should be the installation of sufficient capacity – bigger or more conduits – to meet future demand. The other alternative is for the public agency granting the encroachment permit to install publicly conduit at the same time – a shadow conduit policy. That’s also baked into San Francisco’s ordinances, but it’s unclear as to how diligently it’s being pursued.

More information about dig once, open trench, shadow conduit and similar policies are on my Policy Bank page.

Dig once dropped from federal broadband bill

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But closed conversation.

The latest version of a U.S. senate bill aimed at boosting broadband availability cuts out language from a previous version that would have encouraged, but not required, federal agencies to include conduit in highway projects. Senate bill 2555, also known as the Mobile Now act, would clear more wireless spectrum for broadband purposes and streamline access to federal property in order to install both wireline and wireless facilities.

The bill was approved, with bipartisan support, by the senate commerce, science and transportation committee and is now on track for a full senate vote. But it lacks the dig once policy in the original version.

I don’t know why that’s so, but I’ll speculate a bit. Dig once requirements are often opposed by deep pocketed incumbent telephone and cable companies, who build their own infrastructure and would prefer that smaller competitors not have access to cheap and freely available conduit. Transportation agencies and public works people will also tend to oppose dig once rules on occasion, because it adds costs and extra hassles to road projects that are already expensive and complicated.

Three other federal dig once bills are pending in the U.S. congress, so it’s not a completely lost cause, although those are all currently stalled in committee.

That’s not to say the Mobile Now act is a bad bill. More spectrum is always needed, and master leases and a central data base for federal broadband-relevant assets will be very welcome. It’s just not as good as it was in its original form.

In Sacramento, assembly bill 1549, authored by Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg) targets Caltrans projects, requiring the agency to maintain a public database of conduit it installs. It’s also awaiting committee approval in the state senate.

City of Gonzales approves simple dig once policy

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A simple, one-page dig once/shadow conduit policy was adopted earlier this month by the Gonzales, California city council. The policy is a simple way to give public works staff the ability to include broadband conduit in road maintenance, utility digs and similar projects. It’s an adaptation of a staff-level policy that was implemented by the City of Salinas a few years ago, forming the basis for its recently launched commercial/industrial broadband network initiative.

Under the policy, the assumption is that conduit will be installed any time the city opens up a trench, subject to the public works director’s discretion…

Unless waived by the Public Works Director on the basis of undue burden, or an unfavorable cost-benefit analysis, or the consideration of other relevant factors, Gonzales will install or have installed communications conduit whenever the City undertakes or authorizes the following types of projects:

  1. New street, road, sidewalk, bike path, or other transportation infrastructure construction.
  2. Maintenance, repaving or other significant work on the above infrastructure.
  3. Excavations for the purpose of installing utilities, including but not limited to communications, electrical, gas, water, waste water, storm drainage.
  4. Other excavations, or work on public property on in the public right of way that provide a similar opportunity to install conduit for future use at a low
    additional cost.

The policy allows the cost of conduit and related work to be included in project budgets where appropriate. It also includes minimal, default specifications for conduit. Those specs are likely to be temporary, though. The Central Coast Broadband Consortium is working on a complete set of standard specifications for conduit installed on a prospective basis in conjunction with public works projects, i.e. shadow conduit.

City of Gonzales one page shadow conduit/dig once policy (.pdf)

City of Gonzales one page shadow conduit/dig once policy (.doc)

City of Gonzales staff report, one page shadow conduit/dig once policy (.pdf)

City of Gonzales staff report, one page shadow conduit/dig once policy (.doc)

U.S. senate looks at conduit requirements for federal highway projects

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The “Mobile Now” bill that was introduced in the U.S. senate is mostly about freeing up more government-reserved spectrum for broadband purposes, but it also includes an endorsement, if not a full-on commitment, to a dig once policy. It expresses a desire for federal transportation officials to include conduit in highway projects

It is the sense of Congress that Federal agencies should endeavor to create policy that–

  1. evaluates and provides for the inclusion of broadband conduit installation in federally funded highway construction projects;
  2. provides for such inclusion without negatively impacting the safety, operations, and maintenance of the highway facility, its users, or others;
  3. promotes investment and competition by ensuring that communications providers may access such conduit on a nondiscriminatory basis; and
  4. limits any burden on State departments of transportation incurred by the inclusion of broadband conduit in such projects.

The dig once language in the Mobile Now bill is a lot less specific than one that’s now under consideration in the house of representatives. The house bill incorporates detailed dig once provisions, originally proposed by Silicon Valley congresswoman Anna Eshoo. Both the senate and house versions require federal officials to develop an inventory of broadband-relevant assets and find ways to make those available to telecommunications companies.

The senate bill is more ambiguous, particularly the bit about limiting the burden on state transportation departments – since it’s the states that actually design highway projects and contract out the work, that could be read as a loophole. But either way, it’s more than we have now.

San Benito streets aren’t complete without broadband

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Fiber marker.

What travels below roadways is as important to street and highway planning as what travels upon them. That’s the simple message in a complete streets policy developed and adopted in San Benito County, which is both the southernmost extension of Silicon Valley (reckoning by census bureau designations) and part of the Monterey Bay region in California.

Streets are more than just a place to drive a car…

San Benito County recognizes that roadways provide mobility and access for travelers, and serve other functions that are important to the community. Non-motorized users of roadways have mobility and access needs equal to those of motor vehicle users. Roadways may also provide opportunities for non- travel uses, such as farmer’s markets, parades, etc. In many cases, roadways also include infrastructure for water, wastewater, electric, broadband, and other utilities…

San Benito County shall implement a “dig once” policy by including provision for a full range of infrastructure main line and distribution, above and below ground, as appropriate, in initial roadway design and construction and in reconstruction projects involving more than surface pavement treatment.

It’s part of the county’s drive to attract business and create new jobs, while also trying to preserve its “rural character”, according to the current general plan. Improved telecommunications infrastructure is a key element in that effort. The county and Hollister, its largest city, are already partners in a municipal fiber network, with an eventual goal of improving middle mile connectivity back to Silicon Valley exchanges and extending its reach to areas north of the city that are targeted for industrial and commercial development.

Prospective microtrenching is one more tool in the muni broadband kit

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Measuring the benefit.

The idea behind open trench and shadow conduit policies is that you can minimise damage to roads and maximise the future benefit of fiber by doing everything at once, rather than tearing up pavement whenever a project comes along. Even if you don’t need the conduit right away, the small marginal cost of putting conduit into an open trench could be offset just by the money saved on road maintenance.

A rule of thumb is that cutting into a street reduces its remaining lifespan by 10%. With the details of a particular project, a civil engineer can turn that into a dollar amount, but given that road projects routinely run into the seven and eight figure range, a little bit of eventual fiber can pay for miles of idle conduit.

The lifespan clock more or less re-sets after a street is resurfaced, which is why you sometimes see underground work being done immediately prior. One idea that’s been kicked around is to routinely use microtrenching techniques to install fiber just ahead of scheduled re-surfacing. It becomes a little more complicated with fiber that shallow – typically the old surface is ground down some – but it’s manageable if you know where the fiber is. And have a splicing crew on hot standby.

Even so, microtrenching is expensive compared to empty conduit. But when road resurfacing happens on a predictable timetable, there’s an opportunity to plan ahead and see if there’s a business case that can be made for prospectively installing fiber on a case by case basis.