"Dig Once" Might Not Help Much

There arguably are all sorts of barriers to broadband deployment related primarily to infrastructure cost or underlying demand. Some recently have proposed duct placement whenever federal highway funds are used to build new highways. Of course, some might note that the potential upside might come at a cost: less money to spend roads. Most of the reason internet access is suboptimal is access infrastructure, not long haul transport. And, of course, most highways are “long haul” infrastructure, not “access” facilities such as urban streets.

To be sure, middle mile infrastructure is a definite problem for most rural communities. Ductwork placed in the ground when new highways are built might not help solve that problem, as highways generally run between large population centers (east-west or north-south), and long haul facilities likely already follow those routes, as long haul lines already follow railroad rights of way.

Dig once” always sounds good. But it costs money, and might not typically actually result in more facilities-based competition. To be sure, so long as somebody else is paying for the conduit, there is a potential benefit, in principle, for any ISP needing to build new long haul infrastructure. It is not so clear that such conduit actually encourages service providers to build new access facilities, even if the long haul routes might prove useful for enterprise traffic purposes.

Indeed, there are advantages and disadvantages, the Government Accountability Office has said. Some enterprise customers (U.S. government, for example) do not allow their transport providers to use lease infrastructure. Capacity along the routes where conduit is available might not materialize, or develop robustly. Also, the nature of construction matters.

If conduit installation is required fro federal highway construction, one conceivably could end up with short sections of conduit laid (as the result of repair work, for example), with no actual connectivity, end to end, to anywhere. Also, redirecting funds to lay conduit might consume seven percent or more of the allocated road funds.

There are other practical issues, as when municipalities trade conduit access to internet service providers to promote access or metro communications builds.

The point is that “dig once” sounds good, but is likely to have almost no impact on additional internet access facilities, while stranding assets and reducing sums available to repair roads.


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