New effort to require broadband conduit in federal highways

25 November 2015 by Steve Blum
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It’s easier to dig first, pave second.

Silicon Valley congresswoman Anna Eshoo is taking a third try at baking dig once requirements into federally funded transportation projects. She’s introduced a bill in the house of representatives that would require states to evaluate the need for broadband conduit as part of planning road projects…

If the evaluation reveals an anticipated need in the next 15 years for broadband conduit beneath hard surfaces to be constructed by the project, the conduit shall be installed under the hard surfaces as part of the covered highway construction project…

The Secretary shall ensure with respect to a covered highway construction project that an appropriate number of broadband conduits as determined by the Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, are installed along such highway to accommodate multiple broadband providers, with consideration given to the availability of existing conduits…

The Secretary shall ensure that any requesting broadband provider has access to each broadband conduit installed pursuant to this section, on a competitively neutral and nondiscriminatory basis, for a charge not to exceed a cost-based rate.

It’s not an iron-clad guarantee that conduit will actually be installed during federally financed road construction. There are several specific exceptions and a general loophole for “consideration of other relevant factors”. But it turns the tables and creates a presumption that broadband conduit is an integral part of highway construction. Given that most transportation planners either consider broadband infrastructure to be someone else’s problem or hesitate to include it on their own initiative, it would be a big step forward if it’s approved.

Whether that happens or not is up to congress. Similar bills that Eshoo introduced in 2009 and 2011 died quiet deaths in committees. As a democrat, she’s in the minority in the house, so she’s signed up an Oregon republican, Greg Walden as a co-sponsor. He’s the chair – and Eshoo is the ranking democrat – of the communications and technology subcommittee, so at least it’s off to a good start.