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'Dig Once' Bill Could Bring Fiber Internet To Much of the US (arstechnica.com) 174

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: If the U.S. adopts a "dig once" policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they build new roads and sidewalks or upgrade existing ones. These conduits are plastic pipes that can house fiber cables. The conduits might be empty when installed, but their presence makes it a lot cheaper and easier to install fiber later, after the road construction is finished. The idea is an old one. U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been proposing dig once legislation since 2009, and it has widespread support from broadband-focused consumer advocacy groups. It has never made it all the way through Congress, but it has bipartisan backing from lawmakers who often disagree on the most controversial broadband policy questions, such as net neutrality and municipal broadband. It even got a boost from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has frequently clashed with Democrats and consumer advocacy groups over broadband -- her "Internet Freedom Act" would wipe out the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, and she supports state laws that restrict growth of municipal broadband. Blackburn, chair of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, put Eshoo's dig once legislation on the agenda for a hearing she held yesterday on broadband deployment and infrastructure. Blackburn's opening statement (PDF) said that dig once is among the policies she's considering to "facilitate the deployment of communications infrastructure." But her statement did not specifically endorse Eshoo's dig once proposal, which was presented only as a discussion draft with no vote scheduled. The subcommittee also considered a discussion draft that would "creat[e] an inventory of federal assets that can be used to attach or install broadband infrastructure." Dig once legislation received specific support from Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who said that he is "glad to see Ms. Eshoo's 'Dig Once' bill has made a return this Congress. I think that this is smart policy and will help spur broadband deployment across the country."
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'Dig Once' Bill Could Bring Fiber Internet To Much of the US

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  • by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @06:24PM (#54092137)

    ..In new construction or total replacement of old roads

    Most existing areas, especially rural, still can't get good internet

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by WheezyJoe ( 1168567 )

      but who would own this fiber, and will it remain "dark"? There's always rumors and urban legends of tons of installed but unused for one reason or another. Laying more won't help, particularly if its owned by some investor putz intending to charge the Earth to any comm company who'd put it to use.

      Anyway, the biggest problem is the last mile, particularly in rural neighborhoods, older neighborhoods, and cities where the roads are already built and too busy and expensive to tear up. That's the excuse Verizon

      • Re:Yeah, maybe (Score:5, Informative)

        by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @07:13PM (#54092375)
        They're talking about conduit, not actual fiber. You apparently didn't read more than the first two sentences, because those conduits would be empty, but make it easier to run fiber in the future.

        And, IMHO, it's an issue for the states, not the feds. Communications which enables Interstate Commerce is not itself Interstate Commerce.
        • And, IMHO, it's an issue for the states, not the feds. Communications which enables Interstate Commerce is not itself Interstate Commerce.

          And more important, it is an issue of how a municipality manages it's own rights of way. Since the conduits will be empty, as you point out, it cannot be enabling interstate commerce.

          I can see this at the state level, but not federal.

          • Did you want federal funds to help pay for it? Okay, then you have to install a conduit. But if you're not using federal money, you don't have to.

            Kind of like the 21 year-old drinking law. No, the Federal Government can't tell the states what age to set. Yes, they can say, "If it's not 21, no highway funds."

            • Did you want federal funds to help pay for it? Okay, then you have to install a conduit.

              Uhhh, pay for what? The existing rights-of-way? The feds don't pay for those.

              • by eam ( 192101 )

                The road construction. When states go to the federal government for infrastructure grants to add or improve roads, that's the point where the federal government tells them they have to install conduit if they want the money.

                From the first linked article:

                "Specifically, the dig once bill requires states to evaluate the need for broadband conduit any time they complete a highway construction project that gets federal funding."

                • "highway construction project that gets federal funding"

                  And it is the local government that is managing the rights of way (not "highways") where "dig once" conduits will be most useful.

                  State highway construction is currently pretty rare (at least in my part of the country), and when it happens it covers only a short stretch of road that is being replaced outside city limits.

                  It's pretty useless to require "dig once conduits" for a small stretch of state highway since that is usually where the major internet distributors run fiber anyway, not the local cable com

                • Big deal about the highways. They need the conduit installed when they put the roads in for a new subdivision of housing or paving the road after replacing the infrastructure below (sewer, water supply, storm pipe, electricity, etc).

              • You really are a moron aren't you...
        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          At this point.... I don't frickin care about the states, because they've already dropped the ball.
          It's time for the feds to step in and set a goal of high-speed Fibre Gigabit or faster broadband to every household before 2020.

          • Because technology will never advance to the point that fiber is not needed for broadband communications.

            We must have automated horse poop scoopers to keep the roads clean.

        • And you didn't read the fucking article:

          "the dig once bill requires states to evaluate the need for broadband conduit any time they complete a highway construction project that gets federal funding. "

          Get it jackass, FEDERAL FUNDING. If you get federal funding the Feds are requiring this, if it passes. So yes the Feds can dictate to the States. Jesus Christ read people!
    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      Anything that doesn't enrich the existing oligopoly won't be allowed to happen. Shame, but you have foxes running your henhouse, so what do you expect.
  • by Notabadguy ( 961343 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @06:32PM (#54092177)

    Misleading headline. Saying "Dig Once Bill Could Bring Fiber..." implies that there is currently a bill undergoing consideration. The article says that the same guy has been proposing it over and over for 8 years.

    You could also say "If US Politicians stopped being twats, it could bring internet to people." Or "If people stopped killing people, the world would be better." Or ...you get the picture.

    • by MagicM ( 85041 )

      Google found a draft (pdf) [house.gov] for the "Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2017". So tell your representative to keep an eye out for that one.

    • It's not misleading. The word "could" there means that, if a bill existed, it may bring fiber to more people.
  • ...in a 1000 years or so, perhaps yeah

  • by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @06:39PM (#54092219)

    Or, you know, you could just eliminate the laws that prohibit/restrict Municipal and/or County fiber projects. Two counties I know have PUDs that have deployed fiber to pretty much every address also serviced by their power connection. Residents then have the option to choose Internet service from several different providers (Zayo and Level 3 will also do transit over it), and TV service from several providers, and it's all very reasonably priced and reliable.

    Of course, the big boys (Verizon et al) Hate it, because it dramatically lowers the bar to their competition.

    • Or, you know, you could just eliminate the laws that prohibit/restrict Municipal and/or County fiber projects.

      That would be a major change to contract law. The issue with a city competing with an incumbent cable provider is one of contracts. The cable provider has a franchise that has all sorts of conditions and requirements, which would be patently unfair for the city to ignore when it wants to compete. If a company has to do X to operate within a city, then the city itself should be required to do X when it wants to do the same thing.

      Of course, the big boys (Verizon et al) Hate it, because it dramatically lowers the bar to their competition.

      No, they hate it for two reasons. First, it costs them a lot of money (in franch

      • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @09:38PM (#54093137)

        The issue with a city competing with an incumbent cable provider is one of contracts.

        Stop confusing Cable and internet. The municipalities are not competing/wanting to compete with Cable TV providers or violate their contracts by laying their own fiber and providing internet.

        The big broadband providers, including cable companies lobbied states to get special laws passed designed to kill the municipal projects.

        The cable provider has a franchise that has all sorts of conditions and requirements

        No: municipalities are only able to do this for Cable TV Service, the franchise agreements don't apply to other services that the municipalities are not empowered to create a monopoly in for the first place. Telecoms that put in and own fibre optics on the other hand are federally regulated and cannot be franchised by a municipality.

        • The municipalities are not competing/wanting to compete with Cable TV providers or violate their contracts by laying their own fiber and providing internet.

          You cannot condemn Comcast for being a rotten, expensive ISP with one voice and then deny that Comcast is an ISP with another. Yes, municipalities that are trying to run their own internet service are in DIRECT competition with a company that they have a contract with that demands all kinds of other things that the city doesn't want to provide.

          The big broadband providers, including cable companies lobbied states to get special laws passed designed to kill the municipal projects.

          Of course. Incumbent ISPs that have contracts that demand levels of service and types of services are at a direct disadvantage to local governments that don't have t

          • by mysidia ( 191772 )

            That's pretty funny, since I'm looking at my last CenturyLink (telecom) bill and it contains a specific line item fee for "franchise at 3%."

            Apparently my city can, and does, franchise the local telecom, despite this special "federal regulated" status they hold.

            No..... For a Telecom, that is basically also what they call part of the basic permitting necessary for access to rights of way. FCC S-253 has allowed municipalities to impose their building codes, construction schedules, etc and charge a nomi

      • by Strider- ( 39683 )

        The idea is that the municipality/PUD takes over care and maintenance of the new physical plant. Verizon is perfectly free to compete with the other providers to provide TV service over that infrastructure, but residents shouldn't be forced into a monopoly. The infrastructure itself is then operated in a non-profit/open way. Works great in the two counties I've been in that have it.

        • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday March 23, 2017 @06:01AM (#54094215)

          Yes, this is the model that makes the most sense.

          It closely parallels the road system -- government builds the roads, but they don't deploy commercial services on the roads themselves -- ie, they don't get into the taxi business, the delivery business, etc.

          I think it's telling and strange that they complain about this. For one, it says that they are less profitable on actual services delivered over the wire because when faced with competition where pricing is solely determined by content and not delivery.

          Strange, because I would kind of expect that physical plant maintenance would be expensive. I see Comcast trucks all the time, which assume at least some percentage of involve physical plant work. If a city put in municipal fiber Comcast could connect subscribers to, I would expect that they would be thrilled to dump a shitload of plant maintenance overhead.

          And at some point in the future, I would expect both competitors running fiber to the home and signaling limits on coax cable to render coax plants non-competitive, meaning that cable providers are sitting on something of a timebomb of aging infrastructure which will be very costly to upgrade.

          I've often wondered if a smarter strategy for cable providers might not be offering to sell their municipal wire plant (coax to the house plus fiber distribution network) to municipalities. The cable company could spin off an independent plant management company which would actually run the plant -- I would expect any municipal plant to be managed under contract by a private entity anyway. The municipality gets an instant network to homes plus fiber distribution without having to do any construction and the cable company unloads a physical plant which will need a long-term investment to remain viable.

          • The Comcast vans that you see are generally going to an end-user's residence to do service or installation there.
            • by swb ( 14022 )

              Yeah, but I see the bucket lift fairly often and they don't send that to someone's house.

      • by jonwil ( 467024 )

        The other reason the incumbents hate competition (even commercial for-profit competition) is that the new players often initially cherry pick the areas that are easiest to service. This then results in the cost-per-customer to service all the customers who remain with the incumbent goes up meaning the incumbent has to charge more to avoid making a loss on each connection (at the same time as the new player is likely undercutting the price the incumbent is charging)

      • That would be a major change to contract law

        Antitrust / monopoly regulations trump contracts in a number of cases already.

  • While I'm not terribly familiar with the responsibilities of levels of US government, this seems like something appropriate to being dealt with at the local body or possibly state level. Why is the federal government involved?

    • Re:Why federal law? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Razed By TV ( 730353 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @07:57PM (#54092645)
      Speculation: because the local governments have already signed their souls over. If they can't install municipal broadband due to their current agreements, there is little incentive for them to install conduit that they can't use. And why run the conduit for Comcast or Verizon, who has possibly already been paid to do the job and neglected to do so?
      • Speculation: because the local governments have already signed their souls over.

        Translation: because the local governments have already entered franchise agreements with the incumbent cable provider.

        Sadly (not really), the existence of a franchise agreement between the local government and the cable company is not a reason that this is a power granted to the federal government. "We don't like the way you exercised your local prerogatives" isn't grounds for federal preemption.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because the federal government supplies funds to build US highways, which cross state lines. I assume they're tacking this onto those, it's the usual way to exercise control over the states.

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "Why is the federal government involved?"

      Because the federal congresscritters think that every issue is one they need to fix. Despite the current divisions between the US political parties, the one thing they agree on is that building and maintaining national power and control is a common goal. They actively seek out "problems" which they can give themselves more authority over.
  • by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @06:50PM (#54092265)

    Anyone around here here have any practical experience with long runs of conduit in rural areas? I'm all in favor of it if it works. But how do you keep the conduit from filling up with water ... at least in places where it rains now and then? And what happens when that water freezes and expands? And is there a problem with critters homesteading in the pipe? And sediment? And what happens where it crosses active slip-strike fault lines? In other words -- What could possibly go wrong?

    Also, shouldn't this be a state and local thing, not a federal government thing? I have no problem with the feds doing the R&D and laying out best practices. But if the Feds pay for this, they'll probably have the entire country including every swamp in Florida and dry lake in the Mojave conduited with mil-spec pipes and full time inspectors and mandatory 20 year replacement cycles. While it's probably a better investment than 22 goddamn aircraft carriers, Or the planned massive rollout of overpriced and underperforming F-35 aircraft, I'm not sure it should be that high on our list of national priorities.

    • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @07:06PM (#54092331) Journal

      Anyone around here here have any practical experience with long runs of conduit in rural areas? I'm all in favor of it if it works. But how do you keep the conduit from filling up with water ... at least in places where it rains now and then?

      There is always water in underground conduit. Electrical and communication lines run in underground conduit are required to be sheathed in the same cable jacket as direct burial lines.

      • I agree that condensation will eventually seep in and condense into water. But ingenious planning could overcome it. Use positive ventilation, guarded from bringing in more humidity, snow, bugs, dirt, and rain system to the pipes underground. Solar power it - it will activate on the "good days". If necessary, leave access points to easily slide new optic fiber, wrapped in low friction plastic and points where the fiber needs welding. Nothing is perfect. But it will be awfully close to being permanent. Nothi
    • by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @07:13PM (#54092369)

      The conduit is capped and sealed as its laid. So there shouldn't be an opening for water to get in. Of course it will get fractures and water will enter it at times but generally if they are laid properly it shouldn't fill with water and if water does get in it will be small in volume. Same for critters. If it's sealing out the water, animals shouldn't get in.

      The pipes they use are also flexible so small amounts of movement wont cause them issues. Fault lines? Do your roads slip that often? If you're roads aren't suddenly slipping 2m then the conduit wont break either. Don't forget it's usually laid as part of the road bed.

      As for freezing that is only an issue if your ground is actually freezing to a fair depth. How are they currently dealing with that issue with your water pipes? Same methodology.

      Laying conduit when laying roads is a solved problem and done in many other countries.

      • I was thinking about California wrt to fault lines. In much of the state there are faults every few hundred meters and no one knows for sure which ones are active.

        Ironically the town I live in in Vermont just dealt with water and sewer lines on our street by spending something over a million dollars to replace the seriously deteriorated ones they put in 40 years ago. That's for less than a mile of road. Hopefully, the replacements will have a longer life. The new roadbed is about six feet deep. gravel,

    • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @07:57PM (#54092647)

      Any conduit not pulled and sealed within a year or two of laying will be worthless. You typically need a junction/pull box about every 1000'. At each of these access points each conduit needs to be sealed off but very rarely are because the guys pulling the conduits expect the guy pulling the cable through will do it. Even if you seal them up you've still got the issue that because you didn't pull a line through it right when you laid the conduit you don't know if the conduit's got to much variation that will prohibit a pull (you cannot lay this stuff perfectly level and straight, you end up with it going up and down and side to side and if it has too much of that you won't be able to pull a cable due to the friction).

      When you pull the cable during construction you can verify and fix the conduit before you install the asphalt and close it all up. If you wait you have no idea if the conduit is good until someone tries to pull a cable. Rat's or other rodents will build nests, they'll fill with water and sand, etc, etc, etc. After about 3 years without any cable being pulled you won't be able to get a cable through them and the conduit you installed is worthless. It's far better for cities/counties/states to plan these networks out and use them themselves for traffic operation. Locally our DOT puts in 4 or more conduits every time they lay them for their traffic network and the DOT typically only uses 1 or 2 of them. They then rent the extra conduits to companies. Because the DOT pulled a cable through the conduits during installation and the conduits are in a duct arrangement they know the other conduits are good. In addition because they pulled they also sealed up all the other conduits so critters and debris can't plug the conduit.

      I support what the congress critter wants to do but a blanket requirement to install conduits is just dumb, the locals need to be involved and supporting the installation. Forcing a DOT or city to install conduit they themselves won't use is just a plain waste of money,

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        When you pull the cable during construction you can verify and fix the conduit before you install the asphalt and close it all up.

        That's not a necessary capability. I know people who do directional boring to install conduit.
        You basically get one shot to do it right. There's no "going back to fix the conduit", because it's buried and covered right away.

        If you know what you're doing, and you do it right, there will be no issues pulling the cables through.

        The Dig once thing could be a very smart id

        • That's directional boring and it's different than digging a trench and laying conduit. Boring is done over closed features that can't be opened up and it's typically for very short distances. Digging in a conduit linearly with the road while it's being built is an entirely different circumstance.

          With a linear installation you have no idea if the conduit varies too much that pulling becomes a problem until you actually try to pull, this is also dependent on the size of cable, the jacket and pull force allowe

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @06:51PM (#54092275)
    First i fail to understand why any honest politician would not want broadband everywhere for all people to use. Next make that pipe large enough so that numerous competing companies can offer broadband services thus causing competition and that should drive prices downward. As far as free, municipal access that would be wonderful and bring many poor neighborhoods into the modern world. The basic idea is to protect the public from wallet vampires who seek endless paths to extract money from the public.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rudy_wayne ( 414635 )

      First i fail to understand why any honest politician would not want broadband everywhere for all people to use..

      If there were any honest politicians, there wouldn't be a problem.

    • Easier, potentially better, to legislate open wholesale. ie if you own the fibre you have to wholesale it to everyone at the same rate. That way you don't get 5 cables laid in the same place and you get rid of more blackspots.

      • Of course you can do that now without the need of the conduit. Just force the incumbents to rent the lines and space in their data centres to third party ISPs and the problem is solved. The rent is cost plus a specified amount of profit. That's how it works in Canada and while it's not perfect we do have some ISPs that are much better than Rogers and Bell. The CRTC may have screwed up a lot of things but that is something they got right. I'm looking forward to see what the fibre offerings are going to b

    • First i fail to understand why any honest politician would not want broadband everywhere for all people to use. .

      Honest politician? What's that?

    • How many honest politicians are really exist when it comes to this issue at this point? Most of them are getting large bribe... er... "campaign contributions" from the big telco and cable companies. They're profiting off of the status quo as much as telcos are.

  • I fully support this idea and I can tell you that their are a handful of multi-billion dollar companies that would rather see the nation go back to using slow-ass DSL before it sees a competitive landscape. They honestly don't care about providing a service, the only thing they care about is that they be the ones to profit from it no matter what the cost to the consumer. As such, you can be assured, the people they bought will kill this bill quite quickly or put in enough legal landmines that only they ca

  • Nice Idea in theory (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Going_Digital ( 1485615 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @07:28PM (#54092469)
    but who owns the ducts and what if the comms companies don't want to pay the price to use them and would rather lay their own. Are they forced to pay the monopoly rates?
  • Totally not gloating (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2017 @07:30PM (#54092479) Homepage

    Norway
    Mean: 47 Mbit
    Median: 27.7 Mbit
    People <4 Mbit: 3.9%
    People <1 Mbit: 0.5%
    People who can't get fiber: 54%
    People who can't get 100/10 Mbit: 22%
    People who can't get 4 Mbit on a fixed connection: 5%
    People who can't get 10 Mbit LTE outdoor w/antenna: 0.06%

    I thought maybe the fiber rollout would slow down, but the last stats indicate a speed up going from 41% to 46% in last year. Next year it seems likely a majority of the population can get fiber.

    • When did they start to prepare for fiber/broadband by installing empty conduits in Norway?

      The first time I saw them here in the Netherlands was in the mid to late '90s, in a 'rural' area (farmland, the nearest town with school & supermarket was 5km away, but that's about as rural as it gets round here).

      That's twenty years ago and as a result our broadband penetration is top notch. Fiber roll out is going fast too.

      If the USA wants to keep up, they'd better buy a time machine.

  • I like the concept but regulations likes these are historically the domain of the State. Does the Federal government even have the authority to regulate how roads are constructed?

    • The feds dictate standards for Interstates for sure. And I assume they have some control over standards for US highway construction. State and local roads? Maybe if they provide any of the funding? But mostly not?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Somehow, our primitive forebears wired up the whole vast continent for the telephone and we now know what effect that had on the US economy. If we want to stay on top, we need to do the same for gigabit data. Doesn't really matter what technology is used, as long as it's robust and universal.

    • You can never be too rich or too thin or have too much data bandwidth?

      There's no doubt that much of rural North America needs a lot more bandwidth than they have in order to function well in an increasingly digital economy. But there may not be a real need for huge capacity data pipes except between backbone components. Especially if the IOT debacle works out as badly as it seems likely. Not only do I probably not need an internet enabled toothbrush, even if I did, it probably wouldn't have all that much

  • by PPH ( 736903 )

    There are large areas of the country served by overhead power and telephone lines. Bringing fiber to these areas would be cheap compared to those with underground utilities. The poles are there. It's just a matter of hanging the fiber from them and paying a (regulated) per pole rental fee. And yet we don't see fiber going up in these areas any faster than in neighborhoods served by underground utilities.

    Overhead fiber can be so cheap that a few power companies have gone ahead and put it up whenever they ha

    • "But that will also see some execs off to prison for antitrust violations"

      You want to jail the job creators? You're flirtin with a Guantanamo Bay vacation there laddie.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        job creators

        We have agreements to carve up territories and discourage competition. What jobs are being created?

        • PR persons. A modern society can't function without lots and lots of professional liars.

          (We must close the looming PR gap now or risk being left behind)

  • FYI... (Score:2, Informative)

    FYI... they already do this without a law telling them to and have been doing it for years. lt's called Dark Fiber, and I've had a first-hand tech power company tech tell me that.

    Now granted, it may not be all/most companies. But the power companies are eager to make money off of selling wires they can lay for almost free, while they're already laying power lines. So it stands to reason that we shouldn't need much of a legislative push to get them to do what's already clearly in their best financial interes

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Dark fibre is just fibre that hasn't been lit up yet. If they don't install any fibre in the conduits then it's not dark fibre, it's just a conduit that they can pull stuff through later.

  • threatening to veto the bill.

  • Why wouldn't she and her pimps love it? Yet again, monopolistic corporations will be given valuable infrastructure to hoard for their own (and rent seek), all ENTIRELY on the taxpayers' dime.
  • So this adds to the cost of infrastructure immensely and doesn't imply a useful map or topology. It is darts at a wall. And it may delay projects that are needed. Additionally when a road needs to be moved, the possibly empty fiber needs to me moved as well. And taking on a life of its on, the additional steps needed when some local jurisdiction decides to slam dark fiber in all these conduits then say a large construction project buys up a few dozen square blocks of property, now they have to relocate all
  • All that conduit will be plastic and the plastic comes from Big Oil. So of course Trump and the Republicans will want it passed to help out their friends. Just think that with every meter, sorry foot, of new road laid down then a food of conduit will have to be put down too.

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