'Dig once' legislation hopes to increase fiber internet's footprint

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The U.S. is a large country geographically and it also has communication infrastructure that is older than most. Getting that old copper-based infrastructure upgraded to newer technology like fiber internet is an expensive proposition that has seen relatively limited headway.

While some companies are making efforts to lay more fiber, the federal government has a few ideas of its own on how to increase fiber’s footprint. One such idea is “dig once,” a policy that would incorporate laying fiber into federally funded infrastructure initiatives like highway projects, Ars Technica reports.

The notion of laying fiber conduits as a part of already approved infrastructure projects is nothing new. Dig-once bills have been proposed for years now, with U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo (D-California) having first proposed legislation in 2009. Now, although some other technology initiatives such as net neutrality have polarized Congress along party lines, dig once is a concept that has bipartisan support.

The primary benefit of dig once is that it leverages work that is already planned and funded projects and would significantly reduce the need for additional construction expenditures. The idea even has support from the libertarian group TechFreedom, which stated in a letter to Congress:

“Failure to implement Dig Once means more construction, more disruption, and much higher costs for private providers — who may simply decide not to deploy in an area where the economics don’t work. The tiny cost of installing conduit (about one percent in added costs) pales in comparison to the taxpayer burden of unnecessary digs, traffic congestion, and the opportunity cost of not having high-speed networks that both help support public services and grow the economy.”

Dig once is also favored by some internet service providers (ISPs) and other broadband interests, with the CTIA group that lobbies for the interests of companies like Verizon Wireless and AT&T throwing its weight behind the legislation. Not everyone is on board, however, as some transportation and public works companies that see the idea as adding costs to projects that are already complex and costly.

Nevertheless, with general support on both sides of the aisle, along with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, dig once is an idea whose time might have come. Eshoo’s legislation is now back on the agenda and so dig once could be coming to a highway project near you sooner rather than later.

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