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DOT Advises States To Treat Broadband as Utility

(Image credit: Andrew Brookes/Getty Images)

ISPs may not want broadband access to be treated as a utility, but the Department of Transportation is recommending that approach to states when it comes to using highway rights of way (ROW) to boost broadband deployment.

That came in a memo from the Department of Transportation to state DOTs. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg committed his department to work with states to "host transmission lines, build renewable energy projects, deploy broadband, and support electric vehicle charging along highway rights-of-way," all part of President Joe Biden's modernization of the power grid.

Buttigieg encouraged Federal Highway Administration division offices to encourage state DOTs to think about practices to further broadband deployment, including "minimizing repeated excavation of the roadway" [more popularly known as "dig once"], coordinating with broadband utilities [note the use of the term "utility"] during highway construction, and integrating trenchless technologies into construction practices, as appropriate."

Also Read: Broadband Infusion in Biden Plan Faces Challenges

DOT also encouraged the states to treat broadband as a utility--in terms of accommodating them in rights of way (ROW) "to the extent practicable and consistent with State law." It said that for broadband projects, updating a state's utility accommodation policy could help. It added that states where laws allow for broadband to be considered a "utility facility," can proceed with the permitting process under applicable terms and conditions.

DOT provides for an alternative to the utility designation for broadband. "As a separate path from accommodation as "utilities," the FHWA may approve alternative uses of the highway ROW if it is determined that such occupancy, use, or reservation is in the public interest and will not impair the highway or interfere with the free and safe flow of traffic thereon," DOT said.

ISPs are all for digging once and otherwise speeding broadband deployment, but would probably prefer that their definition as utilities not gain traction if it also suggests they should be reclassified as Title II telecom services subject to mandatory access and rate regs as Democrats have been pushing for.