Mixing Water and Broadband: Dig Once rules for water projects mean lower cost fiber to businesses and homes

What’s the “water + broadband” recipe for cost-cutting and faster Internet?  

Since water projects are big ticket public works matters for local governments to pay for, they become vital to plans for low cost installation of fiber conduit in neighborhoods and business districts.

Many towns, cities and counties have found this out. A great model is Chattanooga on the Tennessee River, working with all its public utilities. This Gigabit city brings benefits to 35,000 customers who get high speed broadband, plus phone and basic cable for an affordable amount per month.  Chattanooga Gig: Your Gig is Here. http://chattanoogagig.com/  

And it’s exciting. Lower costs allow businesses to create customer-specific products and bring in new business and residential customers. See It’s the Applications, Stupid article in July 2012 --“Networking technology continues to evolve, but the difference it can make is minimal unless it enables you to do something important that you couldn’t do before. Continue reading

Many towns in Illinois are taking similar steps, as reflected in the 44 applications submitted to the Illinois Gigabit Challenge program this summer for a portion of $6 million in Illinois public capital investment. Many of these projects work closely with public works utilities, including water districts, to help bring low cost fiber conduit to serve more streets, roads and communities.

The “water and broadband” puzzle is solved by 3 interconnected answers:

(1) Model Right of Way (ROW) ordinances and streamlined application processes are key.
Locally-adopted “dig once” ordinances (for all public works, including water and sewer lines) can use uniform standards and processes similar to those of Illinois statewide standards for fiber conduit installation along-highways. Near uniform ROW application processes can simplify filings and substantially reduce time and costs both for local governments and for communication carriers.

(2) Training curricula for advanced communication installation as part of public works.
Regional planning agencies can develop and manage high quality training for public works staff and community leaders. Instruction includes how to use “fiber maps” and “wireless maps” to bring high value at low cost to every hamlet and land parcel, and

(3) Regional public works plans for sustainability and maintenance.
Local units of government when faced with planning and financing water mains, sewers and storm drains benefit by “mixing” broadband with water installations and other public works. Whenever the ground is dug up, or whenever a water tower is upgraded (add wireless towers for both private and public use, including for public safety communications), “dig once” principles help reduce the cost of government and help customers produce more cheaply in a competitive world..

All 3 levels of government work with communication carriers. All benefit by reducing the costs to government and to consumers arising from lower costs and reduced times for installation of fiber, towers and public works and buildings.

In Illinois cooperation opportunities have been boosted by recent Federal government initiatives. Statewide ROW cooperation is being championed by the Illinois Broadband Deployment Council and Illinois Department of Transportation, and incentives for combined public works financing help with local water improvements.

1. The Federal Government has mandated coordination among all Federal agencies to adopt Dig Once financing and engineering for all Federal buildings and lands.

On June 13, President Obama signed an executive order to coordinate Federal agency programs, facilities and highways to extend low cost, high performance fiber across the nation. This includes working with states and localities to cut the costs of fiber installation by up to 90 percent through “dig once” initiatives whenever construction takes place on roads, utilities and Federally-affected buildings. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/06/13/we-can-t-wait-president-obama-signs-executive-order-make-broadband-const

On June 14 at a White House event he joined with US Ignite public-private and university coalition (including Illinois university communities) to announce several Gigabit applications projects, designed to help business competitiveness, learning access, civic engagement and productivity. See http://us-ignite.org/

2. Illinois State Government started formal statewide “dig once” policies in 2009

Beginning in 2009 Illinois Department of Transportation began working under legislative authority to work with other state agencies for a statewide fiber conduit network. See http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=060500050K9-131). IDOT, Illinois Tollway and others now provide leadership, working with Illinois Broadband Deployment Council, to compile “dig once” best practices, draft ordinances and other resources to help county and city agencies, and to recommend training programs assisted by regional planning agencies and utility engineering specialists.

3. Local government water projects – with high costs and water lines everywhere  – are a good place to begin to save costs through cooperation.

Recent sharp increases in Chicago water rates each year through 2015 mean that local funding is available for replacing sometimes century-old water mains and old sewer lines.

The City of Chicago has also been a leader in planning for “fiber mapping” for economic development, transportation and utilities. These tools, and related world-class Community Dashboard mapping and tracking systems, help local aldermen, communities and parts of the City to “make no small plans” to bring affordable world class fiber and wireless technologies to every street, including when any utility or public agency seeks to dig up the streets. See Chicago’s chief technology officer’s 2011 vision of Digital Second City.

In describing Chicago’s Broadband Infrastructure Expansion and Gigabit Corridors program on September 24, the Chicago Sun Times quotes Mayor Emanuel’s recollection of a recent conversation he had with Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman. “I was talking to him about our investment in water infrastructure.  I told him that we’re replacing 900 miles of water pipe, 650 miles of sewer, 160,000 catch basins. He said it’s a unique opportunity, given the fact that you’re actually gonna be ripping up the roads, to lay the broadband and the dark fiber throughout the city.”

A nearby example of combining public works right of way comes from the major public utility in Northwest Indiana. Electricity-producing NIPSCO has put together multipurpose ROW assets along abandoned railroad tracks, including underground utility lines and above ground walking and biking paths.

Following the advice of good carpenters (“Measure twice, cut once”) smart Illinois communities now “Plan twice, and mix multiple public works and communication assets, and then Dig Once” to create our 21st Century information highways to the world.

Tags: chicago, fiber, utilities

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