Santa Cruz supervisors getting update on broadband policy progress

4 November 2013 by Steve Blum
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If you’re going to dig anyway, throw in some conduit.

It’s one thing to say better broadband infrastructure needs to be encouraged and supported, and not obstructed. It’s another to actually make changes in the way governments do business. Last month, the Santa Cruz County board of supervisors approved a new set of comprehensive broadband infrastructure policies, intended to make it easier to build new facilities, now and in the future. They told county staff to come back in a month with implementation details.

That’s been done, sort of. Tomorrow, supervisors will get what amounts to a status report on the project. There’s little in the way of concrete achievements, but at least there’s a to-do list with (soft) deadlines attached. The plan is to finish reviewing fees for broadband permits next month, and then come back in January with drafts of new rules for conduit installations, a standard lease agreement for installing broadband equipment on county facilities and a “dig once” ordinance that requires broadband conduit be installed whenever there’s a significant amount of construction work done.

The current working version of Santa Cruz County’s dig once proposal is an adaptation of language developed in San Francisco…

In recognition of the need to provide local residents and business within the community with the infrastructure required to meet their telecommunications needs, all new development or substantial repair projects under the supervision of the County wil include provisions for the installation of telecommunications cable, conduit and other related equipment whenever practical and feasible. Where appropriate, telecommunications infrastructure may be installed in or adjacent to County rights-of-way in conformance with current County standards. County staff wil work with contractors to identify the most cost-effective approach consistent with County requirements. If a project includes excavation in or adjacent to a County right-of-way, installation of or upgrades to telecommunications cable, fiber optic wiring, conduit or other infrastructure wil be included as needed. All installations shall conform to the size, shape, location and other specifications as determined by the Director of Public Works.

Another change – streamlining permits for broadband construction by moving sole responsibility to the public works department – will take longer. Hearings and environmental clearances are expected to drag into summer. There are no specific changes proposed yet that would make it easier to install wireless facilities, but that’s coming.

“Wireless is a part of it, there are some changes to make”, Aptos supervisor Zach Friend said at a broadband workshop in Santa Cruz last week. “The county is out of compliance with federal requirements, the county is trying to bring those two together”.

Santa Cruz County’s initiative has attracted attention from around California as a possible model for the state.