Dig Once: How does it work?
A Policy for Municipalities to Consider

Dig Once is a concept that is becoming more and more popular, particularly as municipalities, in efforts to beautify their downtowns, choose to suppress utilities underground.

Aside from the aesthetics, there are functional pros and cons  to underground utilities.  One benefit of buried utilities is that they are less susceptible to damage from harsh weather and vehicular accidents. On the other hand, should underground utilities get damaged by animals or excavation, repair is difficult and costly.

Bar Harbor, Maine is Looking at Moving Utilities Underground

Dig Once Bar Harbor Actual Streetscape

Existing streetscape on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor near the US Post Office

Dig Once streetscape underground utilities

Conceptual plan for the same location with underground utilities.

According to the Mount Desert Islander  Bar Harbor is considering suppressing utilities and eliminating the poles as part of a plan to improve traffic flow and improve aesthetics on Cottage Street. It is quite clear in the conceptual drawing, that the area is much more visually appealing with the utilities buried and trees lining the street.

Suppressed Utilities Have a Stiff Price Tag

According to the architect who designed the proposed streetscape, the cost of moving the utilities underground will constitute nearly 60% of the total estimated $6 million project cost. Given the disproportionate cost, it’s important that municipalities approach such projects with foresight and efficiency in order to get the best value for their investment.

Dig Once: Bridging the Digital Divide with a ‘Tunnel’

An efficiency that municipalities can employ with underground utility initiatives is to make way for fiber optic cable to be included in the construction. Instead of simply burying the existing pole mounted wires for power, telephone and cable, a Dig Once policy encourages the installation of additional conduit for fiber optic cable and the subsequent delivery of its more future proof high-speed Internet technology.

Proponents of Dig Once initiatives claim that the cost of underground fiber deployment in conjunction with road construction projects is about one quarter of the $27,000 and $30,000 per mile cost of pole mounted fiber infrastructure. It’s important to note that the savings is only realized with a coordinated dig once project, excavating solely for the purpose of buried fiber is far more expensive that pole mounting.

Municipalities Can Monetize Buried Conduit in Multiple Ways

If the conduit is empty, it can be leased to providers who can pull their own cable and deliver service in the area. In the interest of competition, it’s important to use conduit that will allow for multiple providers to lease. Municipalities can also pull and lease dark fiber to providers, this is similar to the way Maine’s 3-Ring binder and the MASSBroadband123 networks operate. Another option is for the municipality to install the fiber and contract with a network operator and ISP to provide service; this is essentially an underground version of the Leverett MA model.

Applying the Dig Once Policy to Utility Providers

If a municipality doesn’t want the expense of the conduit installation, it can mandate that the gas, phone, or power utility install and, ultimately, own the conduit during the construction process.  The utility could then monetize the conduit just as the town might. One drawback of this scenario is that providers wanting to lease conduit and or dark fiber could have to negotiate with several entities depending on who owns infrastructure and where it’s located.

A Dig Once policy may or may not be right for your municipality.  When making the decision it is important to consult with the local utility, phone, and cable providers.  If opting for Dig Once, it’s even more important to establish a business model for the administration of the conduit and or dark fiber.