It's hard to imagine anything garnering bi-partisan support in Washington, D.C. today, but "Dig Once" -- an initiative designed to dramatically reduce the costs and labor associated with fiber installation -- is finally gathering momentum across a spectrum of stakeholders.
The concept is not new: In fact, California Democrat Anna Eschoo introduced similar legislation in 2009, 2011 and 2015. But the Internet of Things, the growing digital divide between urban and rural regions, the looming arrival of 5G and organized lobbying by wireless and broadband providers, coupled with more awareness by lawmakers, is at last propelling this obvious approach to curtailing fiber costs into the regulatory spotlight.
The potential for Dig Once to become enacted last occurred in 2015 under President Barack Obama. The move failed -- but let's hope this time forces align squarely to make this commonsense approach a reality.
There is some sign of progress. Last week, the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), held a hearing that focused on national hurdles to broadband deployment. Blackburn added Eschoo's legislation as a "discussion draft" with no hearing date, but Dig Once cropped up in many expert witnesses' presentations to the panel.
"We support dig once policies for any federal infrastructure investment that supports installation of underground conduit and fiber when building or renovating roads, railways, pipelines, utility infrastructure and energy distribution channels," said LeRoy Carlson, Jr., chairman of US Celluar. "I understand that dig once can reduce the cost of fiber installation by as much as 90%."
Added Joanne Hovis, president of CTC Technology & Energy: "[Government should] include mandatory dig once and construction efficiency strategies in other P3 [public-private] projects, in order to capitalize on opportunities presented by construction in the rights-of-way— whether by government agencies, utilities, or private entities—to cost-effectively install fiber and conduit. Dig Once is thus an enormous opportunity at the local level to create a multiplier effect on federal infrastructure funding." (See .)
CTIA, whose members include broadband heavyweights such as
Verizon, also expressed support in a letter to the panel.
Dig Once, Save Lots
The Federal Highway Administration in 2004 determined 90% of fiber costs come from initial construction or repair.
Breaking it down further, digging a four-foot deep trench, adding conduit, and then repairing the street costs the same, regardless of strand count, representing nine-tenths of the cost of fiber-optic cable deployment, FHA said. The costs associated with splicing, optimization and engineering, which are not included in the department's calculation, represent about 10% of the total cost, FHA noted.
It's also surely better for the environment, not to say local businesses and homeowners, to avoid multiple road construction projects that involve heavy equipment and closed byways. By thinking ahead, by recognizing fiber will be coming tomorrow if it's not planned for today, developers, politicians and ultra-broadband providers demonstrate consideration for consumers' wallets, Mother Earth and their neighbors.
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.