Broadband 'ditch-digging' gets boost

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) got backing in a push to bring broadband to more Americans.

Two key departments --The Department of Transportation and Federal Communications Commission-- gave their support for a proposal to dig trenches for broadband fiber as part of the construction of new roads and highways.

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.

Eshoo and Klobuchar sent a letter to LaHood last week to bring the bill to his attention. The pair believe the requirement could be done administratively without legislation. They've also pushed for the measure to be included in the House and Senate surface transportation legislation.

Not much has been said about the bill--which has begun to be called, affectionately, the "ditch digging bill"--over the past few months. But last week, at a House hearing on distracted driving, Eshoo took the opportunity to ask LaHood, who was testifying, about the idea.

LaHood said he thought the plan "made sense."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was also testifying at the hearing, so Eshoo asked him as well. According to the bill, the DOT would consult the FCC to develop standards for the fiber-optic cable conduits.

"I also agree on the ditches," he said, oh-so eloquently.

"Our investments in transportation infrastructure can facilitate broadband deployment by ensuring that broadband providers have easier access to the public rights of way that communications cables must utilize to expand into new areas or increase capacity in existing service areas," the lawmakers said in their letter to LaHood. "According to some experts, the intensive labor and equipment costs to dig underground trenches and repair existing roads can increase the cost of laying communications cables sevenfold."