WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the White House’s Broadband Opportunity Council issued its first report on ways to promote broadband deployment and adoption. Having gathered input from public and private stakeholders, the Council issued several recommendations for agency action as well as guiding principles for agencies, such as the FCC, to consider going forward.

A Good Start on Smart Infrastructure, but Not Enough

The Report makes many sound recommendations about making broadband deployment easier,” said Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom. “Most notably, the Report proposes a series of measures that would, if implemented, significantly advance installation of Dig Once conduits. Installing fiber-ready tubes could allow the Federal government to encourage private investment into ‘middle mile’ networks, making it cheaper to connect small towns and rural cell phone towers across America with high-speed fiber backbones. For a penny on the dollar of the cost of digging up a road anyway, Dig Once conduits could transform the economics of the broadband market.”

But the Report stops short of saying what should be uncontroversial: Federal money shouldn’t fund government-owned broadband networks before the Dig Once approach has been tried,” continued Szoka. “Letting private providers bid to lease Dig Once conduits and deploy their own networks gives private companies an opportunity to upgrade their networks — or deploy new ones, as Google Fiber has started doing. If no private providers come forward, state and local governments can still deploy their own networks in that conduit. But at least they won’t have wasted taxpayer dollars building networks that private capital would have paid for. Smart policy would start with smart infrastructure, not unnecessarily displacing private enterprise. There’s good reason for caution: Government ownership of broadband networks inevitably means greater control, censorship and surveillance—and should be undertaken only as a last resort.”

Broadband Taxes Won’t Help Broadband Deployment

It’s ironic that the report’s top recommendation appears to be taxing broadband,” said Tom Struble, TechFreedom Policy Counsel. “When the report talks about using ‘rulemakings or guidance to open financing resources for broadband investments,’ what it really means is that the FCC will soon force all broadband users to start paying Universal Service Fund ‘fees’ in order to fund programs that benefit only a small number of users. These undemocratic taxes, set by the FCC without even an annual budget, are the most regressive taxes in America, and have risen steadily to fund programs rife with waste, fraud, and abuse.”

About Dig Once Conduits

Dig Once conduits are empty tubes, usually installed under roads, through which multiple strands of broadband fiber can be installed later by any number of private or public network providers. Estimated to add 1% to the cost of a road project, they are also estimated to lower the cost of deploying that portion of a broadband network by 90% — without disruption to road users and nearby residents. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) proposed legislation in 2009 and 2011 would have required the Department of Transportation to install DIg Once conduits in certain highway projects. Eshoo abandoned her legislation, despite diverse support from Google as well as cable providers, after the Administration issued an Executive Order in 2012 promising that Federal Agencies would coordinate on Dig Once Conduits. That Order has largely proven toothless.


We can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org. See our other work on promoting broadband deployment, including:

  • Roadmap by which governments at all levels can promote broadband deployment
  • “The FCC’s Section 706 Power Grab is Dangerous, and Ignores Marketplace Realities,” a summary of our comments on the FCC’s annual report on broadband deployment
  • “Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition,” Berin Szoka and Jon Henke in Wired.com
  • A Third Way on Muni Broadband, TechFreedom & ICLE statement, summarizing comments opposing petitions asking the FCC to preempt state laws governing muni broadband

About TechFreedom:

TechFreedom is a non-profit, non-partisan technology policy think tank. We work to chart a path forward for policymakers towards a bright future where technology enhances freedom, and freedom enhances technology.