Broadband. Broadband is any service providing advanced telecommunications capability and Internet access with certain transmission speeds. There are several transmission technologies, some of which require installing fiber optic technology in conduits, which are often located in public rights-of-way similar to other utility infrastructure.
In 2019, the Statewide Broadband Office (SBO) was established within the Department of Commerce (Commerce) with a goal of improving affordable, quality broadband within the state. SBO powers and duties include:
Highways and Utilities. The Department of Transportation (WSDOT) issues utility permits and franchises on highway rights-of-way for water, gas, electricity, telephone, and telecommunications at no cost except for recovery of staff labor costs. Personal wireless service facilities are exempt from the permit and franchise process, but are required to pay fair market value for the lease costs.
If a service provider is granted a permit, franchise, or lease by WSDOT and installs infrastructure in the rights-of-way, whether it be underground, at-grade, above grade, or some combination thereof, it is required to follow WSDOT standards for any trenching, pavement restoration, or traffic control. Service providers are also required to construct and maintain their facilities at their own expense, including relocation if a future WSDOT project requires it.
In 2018, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation was directed to issue a regulation—for which rulemaking is still in progress—requiring each state receiving federal-aid highway funds to meet the following requirements:
The SBO is encouraged to collaborate with WSDOT and report biennially on this coordination as part of an existing reporting requirement. Addressing the growing needs of the transportation system is added as an expected outcome of the SBO's purpose in increasing access to broadband.
WSDOT must develop a policy compliant with state and federal laws to provide information to broadband providers about planned state highway projects prior to construction so that potential installation of broadband facilities can be coordinated. If no providers are ready or able to coordinate, WSDOT may enlist its contractors to install conduit as part of a transportation project to minimize future traffic impacts, support vehicle miles traveled and congestion reduction goals by supporting more telework, and preparing the transportation system for widespread use of autonomous vehicles. Before use of this conduit, broadband providers must first obtain a franchise from WSDOT. Installation and maintenance costs are the responsibility of the broadband provider.
Broadband infrastructure is identified as a critical part of the state's infrastructure, and is thus added as one of the reasons for allowing access to limited-access highway rights-of-way. Clarification is added that fiber optic is eligible for WSDOT franchises to use state highway rights-of-way.
Subject to appropriation, the Joint Transportation Committee is directed to oversee a consultant study to provide recommendations related to WSDOT's role in broadband service expansion efforts.
The committee recommended a different version of the bill than what was heard. PRO: Highways are not only there to move goods and people, but also to move ideas and to make sure everyone has access to economic success regardless of geographic location. This bill has become especially important with everyone working from home and supporting students doing remote learning. Installing broadband infrastructure while WSDOT is doing other projects would be more efficient and would also help rural areas by giving farmers access to new markets and impacting crucial roads less by only digging once. Internet service providers invest $2.5 billion every year in Washington, and this bill would help them stretch their dollars in order to ensure every citizen has access to fast, reliable Internet. This bill will support the future of autonomous and connected vehicles, improving safety and enhancing livability for all Washington residents.
OTHER: This bill would strengthen the state's role in broadband deployment and establish a clear legislative view that broadband serves a highway purpose in managing transportation demand and enabling cooperative automated transportation systems. Recommendations related to unanticipated complications with sections 6 to 9 have been shared with the sponsor, but overall two important goals would be accomplished with this bill: increasing flexibility for installing broadband in highway rights-of-way and establishing a WSDOT dig once policy.