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.
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.
It is the sense of Congress that Federal agencies should endeavor to create policy that–
evaluates and provides for the inclusion of broadband conduit installation in federally funded highway construction projects;
provides for such inclusion without negatively impacting the safety, operations, and maintenance of the highway facility, its users, or others;
promotes investment and competition by ensuring that communications providers may access such conduit on a nondiscriminatory basis; and
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.
The text of a bill to free up more spectrum for broadband purposes has finally been published. It’s called the “Mobile Now” bill and one of its main objectives is prod the federal bureaucracy into transferring frequencies that have been reserved for government agencies – in some cases since the dawn of time – to broadband companies and, potentially, for use as unlicensed spectrum. It also targets non-federal spectrum that’s under used now.
The bill sets a deadline of 2020 to make “a total of at least 255 megahertz of Federal and non-Federal spectrum below the frequency of 6000 megahertz for mobile and fixed wireless broadband use”, with an eventual goal of 500 MHz.
Which is nice, except that’s already the deadline set by president Obama in 2010 for converting the entire 500 MHz. But any added push to get the wheels of the federal bureaucracy turning is welcome. Ten years to move federal users to different frequencies is regarded as horribly short by some agencies.
Another provision would “permit unlicensed services where feasible to use any frequencies that are designated as guard bands to protect frequencies allocated after the date of enactment of this Act by competitive bidding…including spectrum that acts as a duplex gap between transmit and receive frequencies”. In order to ensure there’s no “harmful interference”, it’s not likely to mean a complete free for all in guard bands, but rather something more like the current open coordination methods used to access television white space.
The proposal has bipartisan support, and more or less tracks with existing administration initiatives, so the chances of it passing this year are better than most bills.