‘Dig Once’ Now Policy, Not Mandate. You Dig?

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When a Federal Communications Commission reauthorization bill passed the House earlier this month, it was widely reported to include a dig-once “mandate.”

“ ‘Dig Once’ rule requiring fiber deployment is finally set to become U.S. law,” read one headline.

Well, not quite.

News outlets could be forgiven for that reading, though. An announcement by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.’s) on the progress of the bill (H.R. 4986) included background saying Eshoo’s digonce “policy” was to “mandate the inclusion of broadband conduit — plastic pipes which house fiber-optic communications cable — during the construction of any road receiving federal funding.”

Policy, yes, but there’s no federal mandate in the final, compromise bill for RAY BAUM’s (Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services) Act, a bill to reauthorize the FCC, allocate more money for the post-broadcast incentive auction repack and create new funds for radio stations, low-power TV stations and translators, none of whom were included in the initial repack fund. It was named for Ray Baum, the former staff director of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

In fact, per the legislation: “Nothing in this section establishes a mandate or requirement that a state install or allow the installation of broadband infrastructure in a highway right-of-way. Nothing in this section authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to withhold or reserve funds or approval of a project under title 23, United States Code.”

Still, the policy is a big step in the direction of a measure-twice, cut-once approach to coordinating highway and info highway buildouts. States getting federal highway funds are required to put in place a broadband coordinator to “look into the need” to dig once.

Like President Donald Trump’s state-focused infrastructure upgrade plan writ large, the bill does not earmark any funds specifically for dig once. Instead, states are allowed to use some federal funding for that purpose.

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