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Obama Administration Continues Follow-through on Broadband Infrastructure Executive Order

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2013 – Demonstrating a thoroughness in following through on its broadband policy initiatives, the Obama administration on Monday highlighted the launch of several new broadband tracking tools.

These tools including interactive asset maps, a web-based dashboard focusing on access to rights of way, and a series of best practices for “dig once” initiatives.

In a blog post on WhiteHouse.gov’s section devoted to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Ron Hewitt of the Homeland Security Department and Martha Benson of the General Services Administration cataloged the administration’s progress since the June 2012 Executive Order on accelerating broadband infrastructure deployment.

One key aspect of that Executive Order was the establishment of a Broadband Deployment on Federal Property Working Group, by representatives of key federal government agencies.

This working group was tasked with coordinating consistent federal broadband procedures and requirements; facilitating a uniform process for contracts and permits on federal lands; and  for enabling the deployment of conduit for broadband facilities in conjunction with federally-assisted highway construction.

This last area is sometimes referred to as the “dig once” initiative, and provides for the laying of conduit for fiber-optic cables at the same time that federal or state highways are constructed.

Under the leadership of Gov. Pat Quinn, the state of Illinois has been a leader in this initiative, implementing “dig once” laws since at least 2009.

Many of these policies were in turn highlighted in the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan — including Illinois’ “dig once” law — which the federal agency released in March 2010.

Among the areas highlighted in the blog post include:

In the blog post, Hewitt, the Director for the Office of Emergency Communications at DHS, and Benson, the Public Buildings Service Assistant Commissioner at the GSA’s Office of Real Property Asset Management, write:

Broadband access is essential to the Nation’s global competitiveness.  It drives job creation, promotes innovation, expands markets for American businesses, and supports improved education, health care, and public safety.  Today, however, too many areas still lack adequate access to this crucial resource.

One way the Administration is working to bolster broadband deployment is by reducing barriers for companies to install broadband infrastructure on Federal properties and roads. The Federal Government owns or manages nearly 30 percent of all land in the United States, including 10,000 buildings nationwide. These properties can provide excellent pathways for deployment of broadband infrastructure.

Additionally, the post makes reference to a progress report progress report (PDF) of the Federal Property Working Group, which is chaired by Hewitt and Benson.

In speaking about the “dig once” initiative, the progress report notes:

Many state and local stakeholders have recognized the value of Dig Once policies for expediting the deployment of fiber along main highway routes. Very few states, however, have implemented statewide Dig Once policies. Implementation is more common at the local level. In addition, some localities have instituted moratori on street excavation to preserve new roadway construction, while others allow multiple excavations as long as benefits can be achieved, such as repairing the street or obtaining additional fiber. In general, state and local agencies favor approaches that encourage cooperation, but do not prevent multiple excavations.

Still, the report highlights two brief case studies, one from Utah:

Promotion of State Economic Growth through Broadband Deployment

The Utah DOT (UDOT) has been successful in facilitating the expansion of broadband infrastructure in remote areas of the State where highway ROWs are open at all times, allowing for easy access to complete continuous build-outs. The state also installs empty conduit during highway construction. They found that if the state installs small sections of conduit, telecoms have cooperated in helping to extend the infrastructure and provide services to rural communities. By using this approach, the state has been able to provide most of its regions with a connection. In addition, UDOT has been able to leverage their infrastructure by trading it for fiber that has been used to connect state-operated facilities and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). UDOT also helps communities understand how to attract telecoms by working with them to learn how to install their own conduit, providing construction standards and contact information. UDOT’s efforts to deploy broadband has advanced state ITS initiatives, and helped to promote economic growth in both urban and rural areas.

And another from Boston:

Boston Dig Once Case Study

In an effort to minimize excavations on the busy streets of Boston, the City adopted a policy in 1994 that mandated all telecoms to install their underground conduits “in the same trench, at the same time on a shared-cost basis.” The “joint build” policy that was created put the local telecoms in a leading role for planning and providing telecommunication services for the City. Under this policy, a “lead company” is established. The lead company is any company (telecom provider, or not) that approaches the City first for a build-out request and takes the lead in coordinating the construction. The lead company and participating telecoms work together to draft the engineering plans, estimate construction costs and submit the built-out application to the City’s Public Improvement Commission, the body that reviews and approves the application.

Among the key forthcoming items in regards to implementing the Executive Order is the development of an online platform for a common application for infrastructure projects with a broadband component.

According to the progress report, “To help alleviate these challenges, USDA Rural Utilities Services (RUS) is designing and piloting a common application system that would be the first of its kind to integrate RUS funding opportunities for broadband, water and waste, and electric projects (and associated environmental reviews) across the three programs for entities seeking grants from RUS. Ultimately, modules will be developed interfacing with other government agencies that are involved in the grant and permitting review processes.” This effort is expected to be available by December 2013.

Drew Clark is a nationally-respected broadband expert who founded BroadbandCensus.com and the Broadband Breakfast Club. Follow the news feed for Broadband Census News at http://twitter.com/broadbandcensus. Previously, he served as Executive Director of Broadband Illinois. BroadbandBreakfast.com tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, programs to advance broadband adoption and use, developments in the universal service fund, and wireless spectrum policy. Drew is also available on Google+ and Twitter.

National Broadband Plan: A Look at Chapter 6 and Infrastructure

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/States by

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of articles written by BroadbandBreakfast.com staff summarizing each chapter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2010 – Chapter Six of the National Broadband Plan tackles one of the most basic issues with broadband expansion by focusing on infrastructure. This chapter deals with the physical act of laying cables and erecting antennae.

One of the telecommunications’ companies biggest complaints is the very high cost of laying cables on poles, and they say that the wide range in pricing makes it difficult to plan long distance projects.

According to the FCC’s plan, the variability in cost ranges from $7 per foot to as much as $20. Additionally, the prices also vary depending on the type of service provided.

Currently, the price for cable is cheaper than telecom with incumbent local exchanges generally paying the highest price. The difference in price for essentially the same service leads to market inaccuracies and should be rectified, according to the plan. The FCC recommends that it begin rule-making proceedings to help decrease the costs and to ensure that the costs are uniform, based on service.

In order to decrease the costs for expansion, a “make ready” process should be enacted for poles. This make-ready process would allow for poles to be set up in such a manner that new attachments could be added more quickly and simply.

Another issue that the chapter addresses is infrastructure disputes. There currently is a mechanism for dealing with these disputes, but it’s very limited. Under the current system, a utility must respond within 45 days of the initial complaint. However after this is done, there is no limit on the time for the subsequent steps. Some states already have set limits on how quickly utilities must respond, and the plan suggests that a new federal time limit should be put in place.

The plan also describes how the federal government can play a direct role in the assistance of expansion through actions taken by the General Services Administration and the Department of Transportation.

The plan suggests that when Transportation is laying down roads it should also allow fiber providers to lay cables along the trenches it creates. This multiple uses of road trenches already occur in Amsterdam and both Chicago and Akron, Ohio, have begun to do this with success.

To expand wireless access the plan suggests that the GSA should create a “master contract” for the placement of wireless towers. This streamlined process would allow for the expedited installation of wireless towers. The GSA owns buildings in almost every major city, which would allow for a faster expansion.

DOT, FCC Partner to Curb Distracted Driving

in Broadband Updates/FCC/National Broadband Plan by

The Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Department of Transportation will team up in an effort to reduce the incidence of distracted driving — the use of mobile e-mail and text messaging devices by drivers while vehicles are in motion. The heads of both agencies announced the partnership on Wednesday while testifying during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Curbing the use of mobile devices has been a focus of both the executive and legislative branches in recent weeks. The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the same topic last month, while the Obama administration released an executive order which forbids the use of mobile devices by drivers of federally-owned vehicles or by government employees driving any vehicle on official business.

The DOT-FCC partnership will include outreach efforts to educate the public on the danger of distracted driving — as well as research into new technologies to maintain drivers’ attention, said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “I look forward to working with [FCC] Chairman Genachowski…on this critical issue,” he said.

FCC Chairman Julus Genachowski told the subcommittee he was similarly optimistic on the merits of the “collaborative effort to eliminate the increasingly deadly practice of distracted driving.” The combined resources of the FCC and DOT can have a “major impact” on the problem, he added.

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