El Dorado County embraces ‘dig once’ policy for broadband
PLACERVILLE, Calif. — In an effort to streamline installation of broadband internet, El Dorado County supervisors nodded to the idiom, “kill two birds with one stone” at their meeting earlier this month.
With a motion from District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel and a second from District 2 Supervisor Shiva Frentzen, the board unanimously approved a policy that would allow broadband equipment to be installed at the same time other projects are being completed. Participating county departments include the Department of Transportation, the Facilities Division and the Parks, Trails and Rivers Division.
The guideline, formally titled the Broadband Infrastructure Installation Policy, was approved with the addition of a sunset date in case department names change over time.
Speaking on behalf of upcoming road projects, county transportation director Rafael Martinez said his team would be looking at several capital improvement projects over the next few years that could provide a way for the county to begin installing broadband equipment.
Depending on whether a project is overhead or underground — and whether the broadband equipment would need to be above or below ground — regular traffic projects such as stoplights could involve conduit boxes or overhead poles to support fiber lines.
For example, Martinez said, the county plans to install two stoplights along Missouri Flat Road to help with traffic at the new sheriff’s office facility. The stoplights will require the road to be dug up anyway, making it possible and cheaper to install broadband conduits then and there, he argued, versus digging the road up again later.
“We still have to dig the trench,” Martinez said. “The benefit is going to come along (in) the fact that we’re not going to have to cut through the asphalt or any concrete in future years to install those conduits.”
Martinez added that the physical fiber would be added to the conduits at a later date, but through a “pull box” system that uses a rope to install fiber optic cables by pulling them through the conduits underground. The pull box system would eliminate the need for another dig to install cables.
Regarding funding for such installation, Martinez said the broadband equipment would be listed as a separate line item on paired projects, making it subject to board approval.
Finding a stable, comprehensive cost estimate for installing broadband infrastructure is difficult, he said, given the individual natures of a potential project. However, he estimated that conduit installation would be between $150 and $200 per linear foot, depending on roadway and soil conditions at the site.
For the Missouri Flat stoplight example he gave, Martinez said that project would be about $300,000 to provide broadband pole boxes and conduit stretching from China Garden Road to Highway 49, a corridor that’s about a mile to a mile-and-a-half long.
Supervisors expressed some concern over the cost, compared to conduit for other projects or — in the words of District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl — PVC pipe. During public comment, residents seemed to support the idea of completing two tasks at once, but some like Kris Payne of Diamond Springs worried that adding an extra component might further delay traffic projects residents have wanted for a long time.
Camino resident Sue Taylor also pointed out that by the time traffic projects are tackled, conduit added and fiber optic cables installed, there is a chance the technology itself could be obsolete. However, she acknowledged that residents don’t enjoy seeing roads cut open over and over for different projects.
“It does make sense to drop in broadband lines, I guess, if that’s where we’re going,” she said.
In early 2019, Martinez said he will meet with other agencies such as the El Dorado Irrigation District, PG&E, AT&T and Comcast, to assess their interest in collaborating on broadband installation.
He plans to return to the board with more information in June 2019.