Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., who is spearheading a federal effort in Congress to include broadband conduits in federal highway construction projects, publicly urged the Department of Transportation secretary to join her in prioritizing such a federal policy.
“We need to continue looking for creative approaches at the federal level to rapidly deploy broadband and improve the economy with limited public dollars,” Eshoo said in a prepared statement.
The Department of Transportation has the tools to adopt a “dig once” policy modeled after legislation Eshoo introduced in May, she said. It would “expand broadband at a fraction of the cost by including the conduit as roads are already being built.”
The Federal Highway Administration estimates it is 10 times more expensive to dig up, then repair an existing road to lay fiber than it is to dig a channel for it when the road is being fixed or built, Eshoo said in her letter to Ray LaHood, Department of Transportation secretary. The dig once policy will add less than 1 percent to the cost of the overall project, she said.
The federal push for broadband is vital, say local broadband advocates, who celebrated Thursday a three-year, $450,000 California Public Utilities grant to help prepare for broadband conduits in the tri-county region of Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.
“This is exactly the kind of awareness we need to get infrastructure built to increase bandwidth and lower costs,” said Peggy Dolgenos, co-owner of Cruzio in downtown Santa Cruz, an Internet service provider and educator which recently opened CruzioWorks, a new co-working office space with high speed Internet. Dolgenos said she is encouraged by the greater awareness governments are placing on broadband. Cruzio has been actively working to increase local bandwidth both with the Central Coast Broadband Consortium behind the grant and as a private company.
“Many times we’ve observed with dismay a stretch of road under construction, but we’re told it’s too late to put in any conduit for high-speed Internet,” Dolgenos said. “There needs to be an increased awareness in the early stages of construction projects and this is a way to make sure everyone involved is aware and does get conduit included in the plans.”
There may be some instances where the conduit isn’t needed, Dolgenos said.
“But, I can’t think of any. Where roads go, Internet needs to go.”
In September, the Santa Cruz City Council voted to establish its own Broadband Master Plan which includes exploring fiber conduit policy. Ideally, links would be offered to private companies at a cheaper price than is currently available and the local economy would benefit, said Peter Koht, economic development coordinator for the city of Santa Cruz.
Broadband “has the ability to transform health care, education and economic development,” Koht said, adding that it could also decrease the community’s carbon footprint and spur economic development because it facilitates telecommuting and keeps more Silicon Valley-employed residents, and their wallets, closer to home.
“It’s as necessary as any utility, like water, like electricity, like gas,” Koht said.
Koht, along with dozens of other members of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, is celebrating the new CPUC grant, which will help fund necessary groundwork for a regional broadband infrastructure.
“Our communication infrastructure is just decades behind where it should be,” said Mark Pimental, administrative services director for the city of Watsonville. Pimental said the federal push was a move in the right direction. “It would be great if the money trickles down to communities that desperately need it.”
Eshoo, a ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, introduced in May the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2011 — H.R. Bill 1695 — which also directs the DOT to require broadband pipes that can house fiber-optic communications cable be laid during certain federal construction projects. It is the second time she has introduced similar legislation. The Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2009, which had seven co-sponsors, was not acted upon. This time around, the bill has 21 co-sponsors and Eshoo is pushing for a legislative hearing on the bill. It could be included in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization, a multiyear bill that authorizes funding and sets policy for the federal highway, transit and highway safety programs.
Eshoo’s legislation also has been included as one of the proposed recommendations in the Federal Communications Commission National Broadband Plan.
Co-sponsors of HR1695 include Reps. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., Lois Capps, D-Calif., Judy Chu, D-Calif., Susan Davis, D-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., Bob Filner, D-Calif., Rush Holt, D-N.J., Mike Honda, D-Calif., John Larson, D-Conn., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Doris Matsui, D-Calif., George Miller, D-Calif., Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Pete Stark, D-Calif., Mike Thompson, D-Calif., Ed Towns, D-N.Y., Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
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