Approved by the Public Policy Committee on December 9, 2020
Adopted by the Board of Direction on January 16, 2021
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recognizes the critical role that broadband communications plays in the Nation's economy and believes that the private sector and governments at all levels have important roles toward closing the gap in digital access for all. Specially, ASCE recommends that:
- The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regularly update its maps as required by the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act and that the maps are developed in a timely fashion and in close coordination with state, local, and private stakeholders.
- States and municipalities should develop broadband plans aimed at closing the gap in digital for all. These plans should foster stakeholder engagement, identify, and remove limitations to better data collection and mapping, support strategic buildouts and deployment efforts, and encourage the preservation of conduit and right of way for future technologies.
- A coordinated approach is needed to ensure broadband is built out to underserved populations, similar to the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.
- Co-location of broadband with existing infrastructure, especially in the instance where public funding is provided. This includes above-ground infrastructure and the codification of "dig once" policies where service providers install broadband conduit as other infrastructure is installed.
- The enactment and enforcement of codes and standards to ensure that utility poles and other structures that support 4G/5G and future telecommunications equipment are structurally sound, reliable, and resilient.
Broadband communication is a generic term for multiple frequency high capacity and speed digital internet access. The FCC defines advanced telecommunications capability as a download speed of 25 megabits (MGB) per second or higher, and upload speeds of 3 MGB or higher. Internet can be provided by satellite, digital subscriber line (DSL), cable, or fiber. Presently, the FCC does not consider wireless connections - i.e. cell phones - in its assessment of broadband access.
Reliance on fast internet is forecasted to grow in the coming years but is not available to all users. According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), data use in 2018 was 73x higher than in 2010. To meet the demand for data, the telecommunications industry is expanding and deploying more cell sites, as well as launching 5G - the next generation of wireless, in support of broadband communications.
Estimates are unclear as to how many Americans can access broadband internet speeds. According to the FCC, 93.5% of the U.S. population has access to high-speed internet. However, there's widespread industry agreement that the FCC's estimate has significant flaws, which defines "access" as one or more location per census block capable of accessing download speeds of 25MGB or more. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act was enacted in early 2020 that requires the FCC to update their broadband maps to accurately reflect broadband coverage availability. However, the timeline for this update is unclear and the FCC has stated more resources are needed to carry out the Congressional mandate. There is a need to establish clear policies leading to the availability of broadband communications for all users.
Civil engineers play an important role in the delivery of broadband communication services. The planning, development, construction, and maintenance of related facilities are all civil engineers' responsibilities. The effective deployment of broadband and preparations for 5G, as well as future technologies, requires careful planning and productive partnerships between all levels of government, the telecommunications industry, and civil engineers.
ASCE Policy Statement 564
First Approved 2021