Rep. Waxman backs 'ditch-digging' broadband bill to expand fiber networks

A proposal to dig tunnels for broadband fiber while constructing new roads and highways got backing from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday.

The appropriately named "ditch-digging bill" is an example of better coordination among government resources, Waxman said in his opening remarks during an oversight hearing of the National Broadband Plan.

"Greater access to rights-of-ways at reduced costs can help spur the deployment of advanced facilities not only in urban areas, but also deeper into rural areas," said Waxman, who is now a co-sponsor of the bill."

The bill was introduced almost a year ago by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) with a companion bill by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The Broadband Conduit Deployment Act, introduced in the House in May, would direct DOT Secretary Ray LaHood to require the installation of broadband channels--which could be filled with fiber later--while the ground is already being torn up for federally funded highway construction and other transportation projects. As a result, Internet companies can simply install the fiber lines when they build out new networks.

LaHood has said the plan "makes sense" and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski also supports the idea.

The ditch-digging proposal has become more relevant as the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet examined the FCC's proposals for getting fiber all the way to consumers' doorstep--the so-called "last mile" of broadband networks.

"This is the 'dig-once' concept," Eshoo said Wednesday in her own plug for the bill. "We can reap the cost savings of doing a two-for-one dig."