Dig once rules and broadband authorities on the rise as governments push for faster broadband buildouts


A broadband expansion task force in Roanoke Valley, Virginia is moving beyond local expansion of broadband networks and has instead recommended the creation of a multi-jurisdiction broadband authority to bring broadband to the region. The task force which wants to improve access and affordability is also pushing for a dig once rule to overcome future build and land rights issues for its network. Efforts like this have also received a push from the feds, as Senators Klobuchar and Franken push faster broadband expansion and a federal dig once bill.

The Roanoke Valley Fiber/Broadband Task Force, comprised of business leaders and local governments, developed recommendations in the nine months following the release of a study, found at www.highspeedroanoke.com, showing the Roanoke Region is lagging behind other communities when it comes to affordable broadband access.

The task force is recommending the creation of a regional Broadband Authority to implement a number of objectives to expand the infrastructure of broadband throughout the region while making it easier for existing broadband providers to deploy their technology. The proposed authority would be created by interested localities in the Roanoke Valley under the Virginia’s Wireless Service Authority Act.

The recommendations include reaching out to large companies, institutions, and local subscribers in order to build support for the authority. The task force is also encouraging Virginia officials to develop a master plan for construction and operation of a high-speed, redundant regional network ring, and craft cooperative agreements for localities with technical specifications and commercial terms for operating the network and for exchanging data across municipal boundaries.

Interestingly, the plan also calls for a “dig once,” requirement for construction projects, including the placement of open-access conduit for optical fiber cable. Many constituencies run into access-to-fiber and land rights issues to lay new fiber during broadband expansion rights, this recommendation would help mitigate those issues in future work.

They also call for the deployment of DOCIS 3.0 by cable operators to increase the bandwidth at an affordable cost to cable subscribers in addition to improved permitting for Long Term Evolution (LTE),to increase the availability of wireless broadband with emphasis on rural areas. The task force also wants to explore the need and economic feasibility of developing one or more data centers in the region.

“The recommendations we are outlining today, developed with careful consideration, will ensure that we thrive as a region with the latest technology to improve our standing in a competitive environment where accessible and affordable broadband creates ideas and jobs,” said Salem Mayor Randy Foley. “I’m especially pleased throughout this process to work closely and cooperatively with business leaders and all Roanoke Valley municipalities to do what’s right for our region. Forming an authority is a cooperative regional effort, demonstrating how our local governments can, and in fact do, work together.”

The task force will now be meeting with regional leaders like the Mayor to work on developing an authority. There is some pattern in place for this in Virginia which has six other authorities of the same type to deal with the state’s diverse geography and population challenges.

Another rural broadband effort is also underway with federal support in Minnesota. U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken pushed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to continue to expand broadband service to rural communities across Minnesota. Currently, more than 226,000 residents in Minnesota don’t have access to broadband. In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Klobuchar and Franken called on the FCC to make full use of the funding allocated toward broadband expansion and continue to deploy high-speed service to rural areas as quickly as possible.

In 2012, Senators Klobuchar and Franken were successful in helping to secure $11 million in broadband funds that will be used to provide high speed Internet access to over 14,000 households that were previously unserved in Minnesota.

Klobuchar chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion and is a member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. She has introduced the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act which would require states to simultaneously install broadband conduits as part of certain federal transportation projects, including projects such as building a new highway or adding a new lane or shoulder to an existing highway. The Act basically amounts to a federal mandate for, “dig once.” Last year the proposal was advanced by President Obama’s Executive Order accelerating broadband infrastructure deployment.