New bill wants fiber conduit built into every road project
May 21, 2009
Getting fiber to rural communities can be cost-prohibitive, but Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) has a plan: force the federal government to build fiber conduit into the sides of all new road projects, making it dirt cheap to string new fiber all interstates when necessary.
Eshoo introduced her plan last week in the form of the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2009—a bill title mercifully free of the acronym scourge that has so afflicted Congress of late.
The bill would require new federal road projects to include plastic conduits buried along the side of the roadway, and enough of them to "accommodate multiple broadband providers." Conduits must meet industry best practices for size and depth, and road builders must include hand holes and manholes along the route to gain access to the conduit. Each conduit will also include a pull tape for fishing new fiber through the line.
Most of the cost to deploy new fiber is the digging and repaving work, so putting in conduit when the ground is already torn up has a certain logic to it. It’s a relatively cheap idea, but one that Eshoo hopes will help US broadband.
"Depending on what study you look at, the US ranks anywhere from 15th to 22nd in broadband, behind countries such as Finland, Belgium, and Luxembourg," she said when introducing the bill. "This simple, commonsense proposal will actually do a great deal to connect more Americans to more affordable, higher quality broadband connectivity."
The idea is right out of the New America Foundation’s playbook. The think tank has been pushing a similar idea for months; in an issue brief released in January 2009, authors Ben Lennett and Sascha Meinrath (who advised the Obama campaign on some tech issues) suggested putting a couple billion dollars aside "to mandate and fund the build-out of open access, fiber-optic infrastructures into the construction, resurfacing and upgrading of our nation’s highway system.
"Integrating the installation of high-capacity, dark fiber bundles into all Federal-aid and direct Federal highway projects offers the most cost-effective means to bring high-speed fiber connectivity to nearly every community in the nation and create a nationwide fiber infrastructure of unrivaled capacity."
Eshoo’s bill only includes the conduit, not the open-access fiber network; private companies will still lay their own fiber, but can save significant money doing it. As she said, "any authorized communications provider [could] come in later and install fiber-optic cable at far less cost."
The bill has the backing of the big House players on technology—Rick Boucher (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Henry Waxman (D-CA)—but it will be considered in the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, not the tech-focused subcommittee at Energy and Commerce. Similar legislation is being prepared for the Senate.
This post has been written by Nate Anderson on May 20, 2009 10:12 PM couresy of arstechnica.com.