Advocates worry the allure of Trump’s elusive infrastructure package is stalling improved Internet access, particularly in rural America.
U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo and David McKinley introduced “dig once” legislation Wednesday that would require installation of broadband fiber occur during federally funded road construction.
The Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2018 would kill two birds with one stone, lowering the cost of expanding Internet access to underserved areas by avoiding the need to tear up recently paved roads to lay fiber.
Laying fiber under an existing road is 10 times more expensive than digging a channel for it during road construction or reconstruction, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
“This bipartisan legislation makes it easier to deploy state-of-the-art broadband infrastructure, which will provide a major lift to rural communities nationwide,” said McKinley, a West Virginia Republican, who wants to increase availability in his rural state. “Internet access is crucial to compete in the 21st Century economy, and we’ve seen firsthand how it creates jobs and spurs economic development.”
Eshoo, a California Democrat, said this is the first in a series of bills aimed at boosting broadband access locally, but similar legislation she proposed in 2009, 2011 and 2015 never gained traction.
Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld expressed concern the bill might be held up by the promise of a “more comprehensive infrastructure bill,” which President Trump has promised since the campaign trail but has never materialized.
“There is universal agreement that broadband is as essential to all Americans as electricity and clean water. But rural areas continue to lag behind because the high cost of deployment is spread over fewer customers than in urban or suburban areas,” Feld said in a statement. “This common sense, bipartisan legislation is an obvious and straightforward way to bring down the cost of deployment, and to promote competition in denser urban areas. Congress should move this bill forward as quickly as possible …”