A Technical Guide to Dig Once Policies

Our latest white paper, A Technical Guide to Dig Once Policies, is a discussion of technical considerations regarding dig once conduit, a comprehensive process for developing dig once policies, and examples of dig once policies across the country. Read it here.

For more information on the benefits of dig once policies, see CTC’s Gigabit Communities

A Technical Guide to Dig Once Policies

During his campaign, President Trump vowed to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, with a plan to spend more than $500 billion fixing the country’s aging roads and highways. This type of investment could also provide an opportunity for local and state governments seeking to increase the deployment of broadband networks.

While internet service providers are often trying to reach new consumers, the process of installing fiber networks can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Local and state governments can ease the process by adopting a “dig once” policy, which requires public and private excavators to coordinate with local government on the installation of extra fiber or conduit whenever ground will be broken in the public right-of-way (PROW).

“Dig once” policies were identified as a best practice for local governments by the Obama administration’s Broadband Opportunity Council as a means of enhancing competition in the broadband market.[1] The Council noted an important truth: “While sound national policies and programs are important, most decisions on broadband investment are made by Local governments in partnership with the private sector, guided by State law.”

Dig once policies have many benefits, including:

  • Protecting newly and recently paved roads and sidewalks
  • Enhancing the uniformity of construction
  • Ensuring efficient, non-duplicative placement of infrastructure in the PROW
  • Reducing overall costs of all underground work in the PROW, both utility- and telecommunications-related, for public and private parties
  • Facilitating private communications network deployment by reducing construction costs
  • Leveraging construction by third-party entities for the deployment of a public communications network, or deployment of conduit that can be made available to other entities

While dig once policies are beneficial, they are not a one-size-fits-all policy prescriptive. To develop “best practices” guidance for local governments, we surveyed the approaches adopted or proposed by jurisdictions across the country. In the process, we interviewed representatives of cities and other government entities that have adopted such policies, and reviewed the treatment of costs in dig once scenarios.

Based on our survey and our own experience, we identified three general approaches:

  1. Some communities require an excavator applying for a permit in the PROW to notify utilities and other relevant entities about the project and invite their participation.
  2. Localities with a “shadow conduit” installation policy require the excavator to install excess conduit for future use; depending on the policy, the excavator or the jurisdiction may then lease that excess capacity.
  3. Other localities undertake a longer-term process, coordinating multi-year plans with excavators.

We recommend that localities consider the following steps in developing an ordinance or policy:

  • Prioritize projects suitable for additional construction, based on a scoring mechanism
  • Develop a refined estimate of the incremental costs during the design stage
  • Develop a standard engineering specification for dig-once conduit
  • Develop a procedure to systematically track and manage the construction and to create a repository of existing infrastructure

For state and local governments and the public, the advantages of dig once policies are significant and easily understood. But, while fiber and conduit materials are relatively inexpensive, dig once construction is still costly—so many factors should be taken into consideration to ensure dig once policies are implemented in a cost-effective and useful way. Communication between local government and the companies that would potentially use the conduit is critically important. Localities should also establish a system to track its planned, ongoing, and completed construction.

Read the paper in its entirety here.

[1] “Broadband Opportunity Council Report and Recommendations,” U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Agriculture, August 20, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/broadband_opportunity_council_report_final.pdf (accessed July 26, 2016). See also: “Executive Order on Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure Development,” Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, May 5, 2016, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/otps/exeorder.cfm (accessed July 26, 2016).
Published: Friday, April 14, 2017 by CTC Technology & Energy