Legislation improving rural Internet access and reducing telecommunications outages is headed to the Governor’s office after unanimously passing in the California State Assembly and Senate. AB 1549 creates a comprehensive statewide map of all conduit and fiber cables in California and requires new conduit to be laid during public works projects.
“We need better connectivity in our rural communities, bottom line,” said California Assembly Member James Wood, who introduced the legislation, in a June press release.
“In past decades the public sector invested heavily to deliver copper telephone lines and electricity across the country. This is a drop in the bucket compared to those investments, but it will make a world of difference for our communities in this 21st Century economy.”
Improving Service, Lowering Prices
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have cited the cost of laying fiber cable and conduit as a major deterrent for investing in infrastructure, especially in rural communities. That cost is mostly incurred when companies have to dig into the ground. AB 1549 helps ISPs lower these costs by mandating that CalTrans, the state’s department of transportation, notify ISPs when it is opening a trench that could house conduit. If no ISPs are interested in installing conduit at that time, CalTrans is required to install it for future use.
A number of local communities have similar “dig once” policies, which lower costs, but the bill is the first statewide effort in California. Santa Monica, which implemented smart dig once policies and has since deployed fiber across the community, has had a 90 percent reduction in the cost of laying fiber by coordinating fiber and conduit installation with other capital projects.
Decreasing Outages, Preventing Losses
Assembly Member Wood, who represents a rural part of California, sponsored the legislation in response to a series of costly and inconvenient telecommunications outages. The most damaging occurred in December 2015 and lasted for 20 hours after CalTrans workers accidentally cut into a buried fiber cable on the state’s North Coast. Currently, each Internet Service Provider (ISP) keeps information on their conduit and fiber locations; no one, including the State, has a complete picture of where each are buried. AB 1549 creates a statewide map, which not only helps transportation and utility departments understand where they should dig, but also helps ISPs and local governments understand where other conduit exists.
Outages are as frustrating and expensive. The Broadband Alliance of Mendocino County quantified some of these costs in a report, which used a countywide survey to calculate the cost of a 45-hour outage that occurred in September 2015. Specific data from the survey show at least $215,622 in lost revenue from local businesses. The report estimates the actual losses for the outage are in the millions of dollars. AB 1549 has the potential to significantly reduce these outages and costs by ensuring agencies, workers, and ISPs know what is buried beneath dig sites.