Skip to main content

If Legislators Have Their Way, Broadband Will Be A Highway

Broadband deployment has been equated with the creation of the Interstate highway system back in the 1950s.

If some powerful legislators have their way, the connection will be more than metaphorical.

Rep. Anna Eshoo has introduced the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act, which would require new federal highway projects to include broadband conduits for fiber optic communications.

That will be increasingly important as the Federal Communications Commission comes up with a nationwide broadband rollout plan at the behest of Congress, and the government hands out more than $7 billion to help get broadband service to "unserved" and "underserved" areas. Eshoo said in announcing the bill that more than half the cost of laying broadband pipe is digging up and repaving roads. This way, the pipe will already be there when the communications provider is ready to install the fiber.

A White House official this week pointed out that there remained a rural and economic divide, and that some 20 million people still did not have access to broadband in their homes.

The Department of Transportation could waive the requirement where necessary, and would have to work with the FCC to try to calculate potential demand.

Eshoo called it a "simple, commonsense proposal," a sentiment that appeared to be shared by the leading Democrats overseeing communications. Bill backers include House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Communications Subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.), and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

The "one ditch" theory of combining infrastructure upgrades has been pushed by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is working on a similar bill in the Senate.

Klobuchar is a member of the Environmental Public Works Committee working on the transportation bill and has been working with Senator Mark Warner of Virginia on the issue of putting down broadband lines as the roads are being dug up.