By Russ Steele
It is has been my position for some time that broadband communications is an essential part of modern life and should be considered as critical infrastructure just like the government treats water, waste, power, and transportation. One of the critical steps in getting local governments attention in addressing this issue is to put broadband requirements in general planning documents.
Governor Brown’s Office of Planning and Research published General Planning Guidelines in August for the preparation of general planning document by counties, cities, and villages. I was dismayed by the lack of concern about the need for broadband infrastructure in California communities under the guidance. I wrote the following to a regional magazine publisher:
In California, General Plans provides guidance on how communities should plan for and implement critical infrastructure. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research recently published General Planning Guidance (August 2017) including these charts showing necessary general planning elements, and those closely related to statutory requirements.
Please note that broadband is not mentioned in either graphics, yet broadband has a significant relationship to land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, and environmental justice.
According to the California, Emerging Technology Funds report Broadband as Green Strategy, access to broadband reduces vehicle miles traveled, office-space construction, energy use, while increasing online shopping, all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 billion tons over ten years, yet these advantages not considered in the General Planning Guidelines.
Broadband is mention in the General Planning Guidelines three places:
Chapter 4, Required Elements, Page 81, broadband as a “relevant utility.”
Chapter 4, Page 82 Broadband:
Both state and federal governments are implementing various funding programs that serve the goal of expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas. Within California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) manages the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which invests hundreds of millions of dollars annually in broadband deployment. The state also created the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), which was designed to be a public-purpose venture capital fund.
Dig once policies can substantially reduce costs for providing broadband service to communities. A new provider can run ber through leased conduit space at a fraction of the costs, incentivizing more private actors to deploy or reducing costs to the city if self-provisioning broadband services. For example, if conduit construction was promoted along ongoing civil work projects, fiber deployment costs drop by $30,000- $100,000 per mile. On average, 60 to 90 percent of network deployment costs come from civil works as opposed to equipment and maintenance.
Chapter 6, page 211:
In addition, general plan policies may improve access to health services through integrated public transportation and provisions for access to broadband, allowing for telemedicine capacity.
None of these references address the issue of greenhouse gas reductions or the economic impacts on communities. Cities that have federal standard broadband of 25 megabits down and three megabits up, can use telecommuting, teleconferencing, online education, eGovernment engagement, and reduced energy consumption, can reduce vehicle miles traveled, as VMT is the most significant contributor to GHG.
In my opinion, if California were serious about the benefits of every home (wealthy and poor) and businesses (large and small) having broadband access, they would provide General Planning Guidance beyond just dig once. They would take advantage of the significant reduction in vehicle miles travel, energy reduction and reduction in environmental impacts, by including broadband as a closely related to the statutory requirements. In other words, get serious about creating a robust broadband infrastructure for rural California.
I also shared a copy of my letter to the publisher with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and received the following reply from Ken Alex, Director, Office of Planning and Research:
We agree on the importance of broadband, and we will likely expand our General Plan Guideline discussion on the topic over time. In addition, OPR and the Local Government Commission are developing a program to help expand broadband in rural areas, which we hope to get started by the end of next year.
The effort to expand broadband coverage in General Planning documents is good news, even though it is a much slower response that I would like, “over time” is not much of a commitment. But, we are dealing with the government which is not known for speed in resolving issues.