Santa Cruz County considers sweeping new broadband deployment policies

Streamlining tech, Santa Cruz style.

What would be one of California’s most comprehensive broadband infrastructure development policies goes before the Santa Cruz County board of supervisors on Tuesday. A report prepared by county staff recommends taking several steps to clear the way for immediate construction of broadband facilities and lay a foundation for long term infrastructure planning and deployment…

  1. Finalize conduit specifications in collaboration with Public Works and broadband providers.
  2. Work with County Counsel and Public Works to establish master lease agreements that allow the installation of broadband infrastructure on utility poles, light standards and County assets.
  3. Allow the installation of equipment within public right of ways, subject only to "time, place and manner’ of access, through the County’s encroachment permit process.
  4. Streamline the application process and ensure permit fees are based on actual costs.
  5. Draft amendments to County regulations that facilitate the deployment of broadband technology.
  6. Work with broadband providers on economic development opportunities.
  7. Work with utility companies on their financing and installation of conduit as part of County projects.
  8. Draft an ordinance based on the San Francisco “dig once” model for the County of Santa Cruz.

The third recommendation is particularly significant. It would streamline the county’s review process for broadband-related construction work on streets and other public right of ways, putting it solely in the hands of the public works department, instead of splitting the responsibility with the planning staff, as it now stands.

According to providers, Santa Cruz County’s existing ordinances and permitting processes are considered obstacles to expanding service. In order to achieve the goal of providing greater broadband services at competitive prices, the County could apply less stringent and more streamlined regulatory approaches to foster greater competition among providers and to encourage providers to go into underserved areas.

The advanced planning and coordination in the other recommended steps would take the place of much of the current case-by-case review by establishing consistent, county-wide standards and practices.

Although the report focuses largely on the needs of major incumbent service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Charter, the recommendations would indeed lower barriers that can block competitors. It discusses a proposal to build an independent fiber optic backbone, and points out opportunities, such as a publicly-owned railroad route that spans the county, that could be made available to incumbents and challengers alike.

The recommendations are the result of an initiative by supervisor Zach Friend, which drew on earlier work by the City of Santa Cruz and the Central Coast Broadband Consortium. If Santa Cruz County supervisors endorse the report on Tuesday, the next step is to draft specific ordinances to put it into effect.