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Micro-trenching Could Cut Broadband Deployment Costs for Some High-Density Areas

Though the technology could help cut costs in some areas, it should not be considered “an end all be all solution.”

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Photo of Duke Horan at Broadband Communities Summit by Benjamin Kahn

HOUSTON, May 3, 2022 – Microtrenching can be an invaluable deployment method for some broadband rollout efforts, but it should not be considered a one-size-fits-all approach.

During the Broadband Communities Summit here on Tuesday, Mears Group Inc. Vice President of Operations Duke Horan explained the benefits and drawbacks of using microtrenching rather than more traditional construction methods.

Mears Group is a construction engineering company that works on projects ranging from pipeline construction to electrical infrastructure, to broadband.

Horan said that microtrenching as a concept has been somewhat watered down as the practice has become more popular. In his view, microtrenching only applies to builds that dig trenches less than two inches wide and under a foot deep, though he said other construction companies will argue that up to trenches up three feet deep should be considered microtrenching.

Microtrenching can be a cost-saving strategy for many regions, particularly in high-density areas. “In areas with a lot of rock and a lot of asphalt, it may make sense to do microtrenching,” Horan said.

He explained that though there are always disruptions when digging any kind of trench along roads, microtrenching’s impact is lower than traditional trenching. He added that because conduit is buried much shallower than other methods, maintaining, repairing, and replacing conduit is also easier.

Despite these benefits, Horan said that microtrenching should not be used in every situation. “Microtrenching is not an end all be all solution,” he said. For example, though microtrenching works in all climates, it works better in warmer climates because rapid, intense thaw/freeze cycles can be detrimental to the conduit. “The sweet spot is outside of downtown but closer than rural areas.”

He also added that in areas with lots of recurring construction, concrete, or small rocks and pebbles, directional boring and other methods may be more cost effective. An additional caveat Horan mentioned was that although microtrenching machines can deploy at nearly six times the rate of a borer, a microtrencher may require a team of up to 12 operators, whereas a borer can operate with as few as three.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Funding

34 States Submit Letters of Intent to Participate in NTIA’s Main Broadband Program

National Telecommunications and Information Administration announces news on its ‘Internet for All’ web portal for three IIJA programs.

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Photo of Gina Raimondo from CNBC

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The Biden administration announced Wednesday that 34 states and territories signed on to participate in the programs outlined by its “Internet for All” initiative.

The “Internet for All” moniker is the new umbrella web site of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration for its three programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: the Broadband Digital Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the State Digital Equity Act programs.

These programs are part of the administration’s goals of bridging the digital divide and achieving universal broadband by 2030.

Since NITA announced the IFA on Friday, the following territories and states announced their intention to participate: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, United States Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stated that the NTIA’s programs would be critical to allowing Americans to “participate in the modern economy.”

“Generations before us brought electricity to rural America and built the interstate highways,” said Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA administrator. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states are now ‘signing on’ to this initiative to promote Internet access and adoption so that everyone in America has a chance to thrive in the modern economy.”

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Infrastructure

Red States May Oppose Affordability, Labor and Climate Policies Provided for in NTIA Broadband Rules

Such state action could potentially the delay the implementation of the broadband policy, says Fiber Broadband Association counsel.

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Photo of Chris Champion, chair of FBA's public policy committee, by INCOMPAS used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Counsel for trade association the Fiber Broadband Association said Wednesday that states with Republican governments may oppose broadband affordability, labor and climate policies provided for in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Notice of Funding Opportunity released Friday for implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Such action could delay implementation of policies laid out in the NOFO.

Tom Cohen, FBA’s counsel, spoke about the possibility during a discussion hosted by the FBA breaking down the NOFO, including issues and opportunities going forward based on it.

Affordability plan proposals were also stated to be a concern for internet service providers, many of who believe the policy could force them to pass down costs to consumers and increase subscription prices.

Another concern raised in the discussion was that the NOFO’s regulations make it difficult for new and small providers to take advantage of the infrastructure bill.

Chris Champion, vice president of government relations for ISP C Spire and a chair of FBA’s public policy committee, suggested that the NTIA may have structured its policies this way on purpose to ensure most infrastructure builds come from experienced providers who already know how to expand networks.

The discussion also noted a lack of policy in the NOFO on hotly debated Buy America requirements for providers to use domestic materials in construction of products and suggested that providers should look to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for details on the requirements.

Cohen also raised that whether the grant money providers receive from the bill will be taxable income is another question which must be worked out and clarified, saying that some individuals he has spoken to believe it will in fact be taxed.

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Funding

States Should Use Treasury Department’s Broadband Funds to Compliment Infrastructure Bill

Director of the Capital Projects Fund said the fund should be used with infrastructure bill money to close broadband gaps.

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Screenshot of Joseph Wender

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – States should use the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund in conjunction with money from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to cover gaps in broadband service, said the CPF’s director on Wednesday.

With the release by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of funding application guidelines last week, states are focused on how they can access part of the $65 billion offered through the IIJA.

But CPF Director Joseph Wender said at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday that the CPF money is available right now to close the gaps in broadband coverage and will be most effective when used as a precursor to IIJA funds that will provide permanent solutions to coverage gaps. He suggested that states view IIJA funds as “complementary” to capital projects.

Screenshot of Joseph Wender

“We expect to make our first awards to those first states in a matter of weeks, potentially days,” said Wender. “The Capital Projects Fund is the tip of the spear in the administration’s goal of closing the digital divide.”

States are responsible to determine with local entities where the money will go, said Wender, provided the individual programs follow all Treasury Department requirements.

The CPF was instituted in March of 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the need for communities to access high-speed internet.

It allocates $10 billion to the U.S. Department of Treasury for critical capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring. It is charged to get the money out to states as soon as possible to help the nation recover from the pandemic.

The money can be used for broadband infrastructure, digital connectivity technologies such as device programs to supply citizens with devices that connect to the internet or public Wi-Fi, and multi-purpose community facilities that are publicly available.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022, 12 Noon ET – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund and Broadband Infrastructure

The release of the U.S. Commerce Department’s rules on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act heightens the importance of inter-agency coordination on broadband projects. In this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online event, Joseph Wender, director of the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund will speak with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark about the role of the Treasury Department in broadband infrastructure spending.

Panelists:

  • Joseph Wender, Director, U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund
  • Drew Clark (presenter and host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources

Joseph Wender currently serves as Director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund.  Wender previously served for nearly 13 years on Capitol Hill, most recently as Senator Ed Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, where he led a team covering a wide range of issues including telecommunications and infrastructure.  Wender also worked as then-Representative Markey’s Legislative Director.  Prior to working for Markey, Wender served as Counsel for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  He received his B.A. from Wesleyan University and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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