State DOTs Expand Support for Broadband Projects

The Arizona Department of Transportation is the latest state agency to step up its support for broadband deployment – an effort mirrored by an increasing number of state departments of transportation as highway rights-of-way or ROWs are ideal fiber optic conduit installation sites.

[Above photo by the Arizona DOT]

For example, the Arizona Commerce Authority – in partnership with the Arizona DOT – recently unveiled the Arizona Statewide Broadband Middle-Mile Strategic Plan, which supports current broadband expansion efforts on Interstate 17 and Interstate 19.

The two agencies said in a statement that this strategic plan helped create the Statewide Middle-Mile Network, which aims to increase broadband service along 141 miles of I-17 and 60 miles along I-19 by early 2023 – with future broadband expansion planned for additional interstate and state highway mileage.

Photo by the Arizona DOT

That strategic plan also identifies 726,357 households in Arizona within a five-mile radius of Arizona’s interstates and state routes that are either unserved or underserved in basic broadband connectivity – and the broadband deployment efforts along I-17 and I-19 should address the connectivity needs of 148,305 of those households, the two agencies said.

Broadband expansion along I-17 and I-19 and other interstate and state highways in Arizona will also help address public and private sector connectivity requirements, promote economic development, improve public safety, and encourage innovation in modern technology adoption and support environmental sustainability and quality of life for Arizonans, the agencies said.

It also builds upon broadband deployment efforts Arizona DOT launched in October 2021 to improve Internet access for rural residents.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recently provided suggestions to the U.S. Department of Commerce on how to improve the role state DOTs play in broadband projects.

In a February 3 letter, AASHTO said federal agencies should avoid a “one size fits all” approach to broadband projects and promote public-private partnerships between state agencies and broadband providers to expand future deployments.

To help streamline broadband projects, the Federal Highway Administration published a final rule in December 2021 that allows for the installation of broadband cable during road construction projects to avoid the need for further excavation in the future. That final rule originated from a requirement contained within the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

Often referred to as the “dig once” rule regarding broadband deployment, the FHWA said this approach could minimize cost and disruption to the traveling public.

The agency also noted that common use of highway rights-of-way includes accommodations for public utilities, such as phone lines, electrical lines and pipelines. Expanding their use to include wireless broadband technology is a critical next step in advancing connectivity in disadvantaged and rural communities that lack such capability, FHWA noted.

“By allowing broadband to be installed at the same time as other road improvement projects, we will reduce disruptions to residents, make better use of taxpayer dollars, and deliver economic opportunities to communities,” noted Pete Buttigieg, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in a statement at the time.

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