April 12, 2017
One of the toughest roadblocks to bringing high speed broadband to rural counties is the cost of installing fiber optic cable. The Department of Transportation has compiled statistics that put the average cost of laying fiber at $27,000 per mile. This steep installation cost can scuttle even the most optimistic business case for expanding broadband in sparsely populated regions.
“Dig Once” is a relatively simple and inexpensive policy concept that can lower the cost of broadband deployment. The Dig Once policies start by granting ISPs access to state- or city-owned “rights-of-way.” The policies can also mandate the installation of conduit for fiber-optic cable during road construction, or help coordinate broadband installations while roads are dug up.
According to the Fiber Broadband Association, mandating conduits amortizes the cost of conduit construction over all ISPs that later use the conduit. This can reduce deployment costs while adding less than one percent to the cost of the road construction. A study by the GAO points out that the Dig Once policies can reduce the cost of deploying fiber under federal highways in urban areas by 25–33 percent, and by roughly 16 percent in rural areas.
These cost reductions can mean significant savings when funding a multi-million dollar build out of fiber. Even relatively small cost reductions can make a difference when a new or incumbent ISP raises the capital necessary to deploy broadband to rural counties.
While Congress is debating draft legislation that would require installing a conduit during construction of a federally-funded road in areas that need more broadband, several states and municipalities have already adopted their own versions of the Dig Once policy.
The Minnesota Dig Once policy leverages “rights of way”; Arizona’s Department of Transportation coordinates the installation of multi-user conduit along state highway “rights of way”; and Utah implemented its Dig Once policy for the 2002 Olympic Games, specifying the installation of oversize conduit during road construction.
Boston makes city-owned assets such as shadow conduit more available to broadband service providers. San Francisco allows roadside trenches to be left open after construction so that the trench later can be used to bury conduit and shared among broadband providers, when possible.
Better, faster, cheaper and more competitive broadband benefits everyone. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to deployment challenges, “dig once” policies can help increase the supply of bandwidth and provide internet access at more affordable prices to underserved rural and urban areas.