Installing high-speed fiber-optic infrastructure is incredibly expensive. By some accounts, it can cost up to $8,000 per home to have the cabling put in place. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Federal Highway Administration report detailed that up to 90 percent of this cost was tied up in the process of actually digging up roadways, not the fiber lines themselves.
As a result, some cities and states champion the idea of future-proofing PROW’s (public rights-of-ways) during road construction projects. This common-sense concept is frequently referred to as ‘Dig Once’, and would mandate the inclusion of broadband conduit—flexible plastic pipes which can be used to more easily install fiber-optic communications cable—during the construction of any road receiving federal funding.
The practice effectively eliminates the need to dig up recently-paved roads to expand broadband infrastructure, significantly reducing the cost of building out internet access to underserved communities across the country. Congress had the chance to make this the national standard last year with the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2018, but the bill didn’t pass. A similar bill was ultimately enacted, though lacking any specific dig once requirement.
Goldman Sachs has estimated that it could cost upwards of $140 billion to build high-speed service out to the entire country. If dig once had been implemented nationally, it could’ve provided up to $126 billion in savings, bringing the estimated total to a far more palatable $14 billion.
Despite the fact that this basic principle is widely agreed-upon by both sides of the political aisle, progress at the national level has stalled completely, and only 11 states have actually followed through with implementing formal or informal policies. 18 cities around the nation have done the same. See the full list.
Historical Efforts To Enact Dig Once Policies
As far back as 1996, the concept of future-proofing for internet service during construction projects was suggested. Section 253 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 preempts any state or local regulation of PROWs that in intent or in effect bars or discriminates against any telecommunications provider looking to access and utilize the PROW.
Years later on June 14, 2012, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order to facilitate the deployment of broadband on federal lands, buildings, rights of way, federally-assisted highways and tribal lands. The Order required the USDOT-FHWA to review dig once requirements in existing programs, as it relates to the placement of below ground fiber optic cable along highway and roadway rights-of-way. The Obama order also created the “Broadband Deployment on Federal Property Working Group.”
At three separate points over the last decade (2009, 2011, and 2015), Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo has attempted to pass a bill requiring a national dig-once policy to be put in place. These attempts were unsuccessful, and while the senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee eventually introduced and passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the crucial “dig once” component of the bill was omitted, essentially kicking the responsibility down to states. BroadbandNow has conducted extensive research into why this change was made, but as of this writing we have been unable to draw any definitive conclusion. Please reach out to us if you have any specific information regarding this piece of legislation.
Obstacles To Dig Once Implementation
If dig once policies are proposed every few years, then why don’t they ever seem to be ultimately implemented? It’s difficult to say with certainty, as much of the final language of our state and national legislature is determined behind closed doors in opaque proceedings involving various subcommittees. In general, we believe that there are two substantial obstacles blocking dig once from becoming a widespread policy. Let’s take a closer look at each of them below.
Shortsighted Governmental Budgeting
Major highway and road construction projects are notoriously expensive and complicated. As a result, transportation agencies and public works departments have been known to oppose dig once on the principle that it creates even more operational overhead, despite the long-term benefits far outweighing the short-term costs.
You might think that incumbent national telecom providers would react positively to proposals that could save them millions on broadband deployment, and in some cases, they have. However, not all of these companies are keen to allow their local competitors to gain easy access to robust fiber connections in their most heavily-entrenched markets.
Here are several examples of bills that have been indefinitely stalled at the state and national levels:
Types of Dig Once Policies
There are several different flavors of dig once in effect around the nation today. In general, these tend to be “policies” rather than “laws,” as the government has historically avoided preventing local organizations from digging up roadways for a single purpose, if desired. Instead, lawmakers have usually favored reaching more flexible agreements.
The most common amongst these is a joint-trench agreement (a.k.a. “joint use” or “joint build”). These are meant to improve coordination with telecommunication providers when plans are made to open the ground for any reason. “Joint use” in this case means requiring that all providers of broadband services–and in some cases, all utilities–install their infrastructure at the same time, in the same trench, or in the same conduit. In most cases, they will also share the cost of installing the infrastructure.
Another, more basic form of dig once is a “one touch” agreement, which is simply where conduit is installed during any relevant government-funded construction project. Moratoriums on street excavation are often placed to preserve new roadway construction and encourage proactive installation of conduit and dark fiber. In addition, the use of trenchless technologies such as horizontal directional drilling or microtrenching has become more popular in recent years as an alternative to full-scale dig once policies.
Other Forms of Dig Once
- Shared Leasing – An agreement where multiple ISPs share the cost of leasing infrastructure. These are designed to reduce obstacles to shared access of existing poles, ducts, and conduits.
- Utilities Partnerships – Whenever a city carries out sewer and water projects, conduit or fiber can be installed at the same time to increase cost savings.
State-Level Dig Once Policies
Despite slow adoption and progress at the national level, 11 states do have existing dig once policies in place. They are:
Date enacted: 2019
Description: The Governor of North Carolina formed the Task Force on Connecting North Carolina in March 2019, aimed at increasing Internet access to North Carolina residents and aligning state agencies policies in order to remove barriers to broadband deployment. It’s comprised of officials representing an array of state departments, including the department of transportation (DOT) and the department of information technology (DIT).
The governor has asked representatives from the DOT and DIT to jointly develop and implement no later than July 1st, 2019 a statewide “Dig Once” policy promoting the installation of broadband conduit or cables during road construction projects.
Date enacted: 1999
Description: Utah’s state government began implementing Dig Once policies ahead of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. The state’s DOT has since expanded the policy, requiring the installation of oversized conduit for certain road construction projects, while interested telecom parties can then extend that infrastructure to neighboring communities.
The state’s DOT owns the conduit and leases it to telecom companies that want to use it. The state’s Telecommunications Advisory Council reviews and approves valuations and trades between the state’s DOT and telecom companies for access to conduit, and maintains a map of fiber locations.
Date enacted: 2012
Description: Arizona’s Dig Once policies are targeted specifically at expanding broadband access to rural communities. The policy states that during road construction projects along rural highways, the DOT can coordinate with telecom companies to install conduit, and enables the agency to lease the conduit to telecom providers at a cost-based rate.
Date enacted: 2013
Description: Minnesota’s state laws encourage the state’s Office of Broadband Development to coordinate with the state’s DOT for “Dig Once” measures in planning, relocation, installation, or improving broadband conduit within a right-of-way. It enables the Office of Broadband Development to evaluate procedures and criteria for contracts or lease agreements with telecom companies and as well as pricing requirements. It also allows for co-location of fiber and conduit with other utilities in the same trench.
Date enacted: 2017
Description: Nevada state legislature formed the Telecommunications Advisory Council within the state’s DOT in 2017, outlining parameters and regulations for the DOT in coordinating with telecom companies for access to rights-of-way for installing telecommunications equipment.
The law charges the council with seeking input from telecommunications providers and the public relating to broadband access, provide recommendations to the state DOT on offering access to rights-of-way to telecommunications providers, as well as approving or denying proposed fiber trade agreements between the DOT and a telecom provider. The DOT is also authorized to enter into agreements with telecom companies and charge fees to access to public rights-of-way, or receive in-kind compensation.
Date enacted: 2017-present
Description: Maryland’s DOT coordinates with telecom providers and local utilities for installing conduit. The Connecting Rural Maryland Act created the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service, which was charged with facilitating cooperation between telecom providers to reduce redundancy, save money, and ensure that the all fiber assets are being used efficiently. The task force focused on facilitating cooperation between electric cooperatives and telecom companies.
The task force’s last report recommended the state include fiber optic cable as part of its definition of telecommunications equipment, and that it allow utilities to lease excess fiber and/or pole attachment rights for telecommunications, including broadband, without obtaining a separate easement, in order to promote broadband access in rural parts of the state. It has requested that the state’s legislature draft authority for electric cooperatives to coordinate with telecom providers in laying fiber. That bill is expected to be introduced during the 2019 session.
HB 961, meanwhile, specifies that nonprofit telecommunications services providers in rural and underserved areas of the State must be allowed to use the right-of-way or easement of specified State agencies for the installation of broadband communication infrastructure without being charged to do so.
Date enacted: 2018
Georgia state legislature passed the ACE bill in 2018, which enables the state DOT to develop and implement a long-term policy allowing public rights-of-way to be used for the deployment of broadband services and other “emerging communication technologies” either by the state or private providers. It also requires local governments’ comprehensive plans to include elements to facilitate the deployment of broadband services, and it amends the OneGeorgia Authority Act to include broadband services. Finally, the bill authorizes the Georgia Technology Authority to establish policies and programs necessary to coordinate statewide efforts to promote broadband deployments between state agencies, local governments and industry representatives.
Date enacted: 2018
Description: West Virginia’s state government has developed a uniform system for conduit installation for telecom companies that are applying to install telecom infrastructure. Telecom companies must enter into an agreement with the state’s Division of Highways for installing conduit in public rights-of-way; companies must also notify the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council and all other carriers on record within the state of installation permit.
Other telecom companies that are interested in installing their own fiber have 30 days to notify the applicant of interest in sharing the trench. The telecom company is also required to run an advertisement in the relevant media for two weeks advertising the project, to allow other carriers the opportunity to respond. The law also allows the Division of Highways to charge fees for access to public rights-of-way, or accept in-kind compensation from sources such as conduit, dark fiber, access points; other telecom equipment or services or even bandwidth.
Date enacted: 2018
Description: Maine’s law requires any public entity involved in a construction project to install broadband conduit, and authorizes that entity to lease the conduit to telecom companies for installing broadband and/or wireless facilities for the purpose of providing service.
The law states that telecom companies proposing broadband deployments must notify the ConnectME Authority with the location and description of the proposed facility and that the Authority must then disseminate that information to all other telecom companies or other entities that may be interested in installing broadband at the same time. The Authority is also tasked with maintaining a map of broadband conduit installations through the state.
Law(s): 605 ILCS 5/9-131) Sec. 9-131.
Date enacted: 2009
Description: Illinois state law requires the state DOT and the Department of Central Management Services (DCMS) to collaborate in installing fiber network conduit where it does not already exist in every new state-funded construction project that opens trenches along state-owned roadways.
Either department is authorized to allow a third-party company manage the leasing of the conduit to telecom companies, so long as the state can receive market-based pricing for the lease. The state’s DOT also coordinates with the Illinois Broadband Deployment Council to compile Dig Once best practices and draft ordinances for county and city agencies within the state.
Date enacted: 2016
Description: California requires the state DOT to notify telecom companies of state-led highway construction projects through its website to enable companies to collaborate with the state on installing conduit in public rights-of-way during each project.
City/County-Level Dig Once Policies
In some states, cities and counties have enacted their own versions of dig once policies:
Law: Ord. 629 §1
Date enacted: 2004
Description: The city of Loma Linda requires all new construction to connect to the city’s existing fiber network, through ordinances laid out in their Loma Linda Connected Community Program. Residential and commercial builders in Loma Linda are required to include broadband-capable internal wiring and fiber-optic interfaces in new structures. Loma Linda was one of the first communities in the US to adopt a comprehensive future-facing dig once construction policy, and one of the only ones to extend the ordinance to building wiring specifications.
Law: Ordinance No. 609
Date enacted: 1999
Description: Brentwood California began implementing Dig Once policies 20 years ago. The city requires developers to design and install two advanced technology system conduits dedicated to the city within public rights-of-way during new construction and to each lot line within the development.
It goes on to require developers to install a fiber optic system in one of the two conduits, designed to serve the development by either the city itself or a licensed franchisee. The second conduit must remain empty and is reserved for future use by other franchisees. Over the last 20 years, the city now has 150 miles of conduit passing over 8,000 homes. ISP Sonic.net has relied heavily on the conduit to provide broadband service to residents.
Description: The city of Sandy requires private developers to install conduit when disturbing existing roads or building new ones, and offers maps of existing installations so that developers can be strategic in how they install conduit. The city was added broadband fiber to the list of municipal infrastructure (such as water, sewer, power lines and mailboxes) that all new developments must include.
Date enacted: 1998; expansion in 1994
Description: Boston is possibly the very first city to implement a Dig Once policy, back in 1988. Initially, the city required all construction projects that involved excavators in a public right-of-way to install conduit, and the city then leased that conduit to telecom companies through a one-time fee plus a $5 per foot annual charge. However, the city found its offering wasn’t attractive enough to telecom companies, who had begun building their own conduit along parallel streets.
The city has since revised its laws to require telecom companies to lease space from the installed conduit before being allowed to install their own conduit, thereby encouraging companies to make use of what’s already been installed. In 1994, Boston implemented a policy that required all telecom companies to install conduits in the same trench at the same time, on a shared-cost basis. This policy requires a lead company to coordinate with other telecom entities in drafting engineering plans and estimating costs for the trenching and conduit installation.
Date enacted: 2009
Description: Berkeley has implemented a suite of policies and procedures outlining best practices for telecom companies in order to minimize the inconveniences of installation, maintenance and removal of telecom facilities in public rights-of-way. The city requires that existing facilities be moved underground alongside new facilities when feasible, and that telecom companies coordinate construction projects with utilities installing infrastructure in public rights-of-way. Telecom companies must also alert the city to any excess or surplus conduit to be installed, and that new facilities be installed within existing facilities where there is sufficient excess capacity.
Description: The city of Bellevue doesn’t have a formal Dig Once policy in place, but the city has set Dig Once conditions within some of its development projects in the past. The city asks excavator projects include installing conduit along roads when feasible, as well as during street lighting and traffic signal upgrades. It also requires transportation projects that interrupt public sidewalks include installed conduit.
Date enacted: 2016
Description: Gonzales city government has implemented a Dig Once policy for public works projects that requires the city to install conduit during projects such as construction and maintenance of utility infrastructure, or public roadways, or during excavations for installing communications, in public rights-of-way. The conduit is owned by the city.
Arlington County, VA
Description: Arlington County does not have a specific Dig Once policy, but the county has reached “Dig Once” agreements with utility providers in the past. The county entered into one such agreement with electric utility Dominion Virginia Power. The utility needed to install underground conduit along a congested urban public right-of-way. The county required the utility to install fiber in parallel conduit for the county’s use. The county is also in the midst of installing a fiber network and is building extra capacity for use at a later date.
Law: Ordinance 220-14
Date enacted: 2014
Description: San Francisco laws requires any government-led construction project involving a public right-of-way to include improvements to communications infrastructure when feasible. It also requires a telecom company applying to install communications infrastructure to notify the city’s Department of Technology, in order for the department to participate in installing conduit at the same time, and encourages the department to consider doing so, in order to create a more efficient delivery of broadband services to the public and for the city’s needs.
Date enacted: 2016
Description: The city of Monterey and the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC) have developed a set of conduit specifications and guidelines for reducing redundancy in installation. Its recommendations range from the conduit size and number of conduits to install; whether future conduit installation would be problematic or impossible; and whether any partners or customers will make immediate use of it. But the specifications leave out guidance on when to require conduit installation and who should be required to install it.
Date enacted: 2014
Description: The city of Santa Cruz, also part of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium (CCBC), adopted the Santa Cruz county’s ordinance in 2014, which in turn was based on the city of San Francisco’s Dig One policy. It requires that any entity proposing construction projects in public rights-of-way for utility improvements also install conduit or other telecommunications equipment when practical and feasible. City staff will work with contractors to identify the most cost-effective approach to installing conduit to meet the city requirements, and will notify and coordinate with other telecom companies to join the project.
San Benito County, CA
Date enacted: 2015
Description: San Benito County, part of the CCBC, and implemented a Dig Once practices as part of its multi-use streets policy. It requires county roadway construction projects to include install underground utility conduit. The county, which is part of a municipal broadband network, can then use the conduit to expand the network. The county may also utilize the CCBC’s shadow conduit policy, which recommends trenching digging projects include a 60-day window in order to notify other telecom or utility providers who may be interested in installing conduit at the same time. The county encourages local jurisdictions to adopt similar policies.
Description: The City of Chicago has created a specific office that handles coordinating construction projects across agencies and companies to minimize disruptions to the public. The Project Coordination Office, within the city’s DOT, was formed in 2012 at the direction of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to coordinate projects within public rights-of-way between different service providers and utilities. In 2013, the mayor expanded the scope of the office to include telecommunications. The office has helped the city save an estimated $150 million in construction costs since 2012.
Date enacted: 2017
Description: The city of Celina has adopted a conduit ordinance that requires any city-led or developer-led construction project that includes underground excavation to install conduit and fiber-optic cable at the same time, in order to accommodate future telecommunications uses. Private developers must pay for the conduit installation, which then becomes the property of the city. The city also requires that telecom companies looking to install fiber make use of the city’s fiber assets when available, first, and pay fees to the city for access to the infrastructure.
Date enacted: 1999
Description: Mount Vernon requires private developers to install conduit when engaging in construction projects that either disturb existing roads or create new roads. The city maintains maps of conduit installations so that developers can be strategic in where they place the conduit.
El Dorado County, CA
Date enacted: 2018
Description: El Dorado County adopted a conduit installation requirement for capital improvement projects. The policy requires construction projects from the county’s Department of Transportation, the Facilities Division and the Parks, Trails and Rivers Division to include installing conduit when digging trenches or excavating underground as part of the construction.
Humboldt County, CA
Law: General Plan
Date enacted: 2017
Description: Humboldt county’s 2017 updated general plan includes provisions to expand broadband access that include implementing Dig Once policies. The plan recommends that new residential and commercial development projects include requiring developers to install conduit within joint utility trenches for future telecommunications use. It also recommends flexibility in conduit placement requirements in order to allow for retrofitting of communications systems.
Date enacted: 2003
Description: Poulsbo requires any new public street construction by either the city or a private developer include the installation of conduit that can accommodate two telecom companies’ fiber infrastructure. The law requires that the conduit be dedicated to the city upon completion, and that any telecom company looking to deploy infrastructure must first lease conduit space from the city if available.
Don’t see your city or state in the list? Don’t be discouraged.
Awareness is half the battle when it comes to getting dig once policies adopted across the nation. Believe it or not, even a few dedicated citizens can move the needle in their local area. Here’s what you can do to encourage better broadband service in your city:
Get involved. Form local action groups and raise awareness in your area by writing to your representatives, showing up to town hall meetings, and educating yourself on the benefits and challenges of dig once agreements.
Learn more about community broadband. Municipal broadband networks represent another approach cities around the nation are taking in order to bring higher quality services to more Americans. Unfortunately, 26 states currently roadblock or outright ban their formation.