Dig once policies can help future-proof digital connectivity

  • Reliable access to digital services should not be considered a privilege, but a necessity for social and economic well-being.
  • To drive digital connectivity, governments, citizens, utilities and Internet service providers must collaborate on a “dig it once” policy.
  • The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance held workshops with 17 cities around the world to investigate the weaknesses and shortcomings of the World Economic Forum. Dig once politics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a persistent digital divide and shown its many consequences. While the world was in lockdown, half the population had no internet access. People have been unable to locate COVID-19 testing sites or other essential resources, monitor local pandemic status, purchase many necessities, or even check in with their family.

Digital connectivity was also crucial as work moved to home and school moved online. These effects aggravated the long term consequences for those who do not have access to the Internet, such as reduced employment opportunities and difficulty in accessing social services. Reliable access to technologies such as cellular service and Wi-Fi is a necessity for social and economic well-being, not a privilege.

Building an ecosystem of actors

Many governments understand the need for better and wider digital connectivity. But it requires costly and disruptive works – mainly the laying of new telecommunications cables and equipment under roads and around other critical infrastructure. The potential cost of deploying digital infrastructure is enormous. It has been estimated that deploying fiber to 90% of US households could cost $70 billion.

Private ISPs want to expand their customer base, but must balance these new revenue streams with often huge construction and infrastructure costs. Meanwhile, the service provided by the government is constrained by the limited pool of taxpayer dollars which is divided among countless critical needs.

Solutions to these complex problems require an ecosystem of willing and united actors (governments, citizens, public services, Internet service providers). Governments have begun to develop and implement ‘dig once’ policies that coordinate these stakeholders and ensure the installation of telecommunications conduits that facilitate connectivity. These efforts reduce risks to public safety and property, and facilitate the traffic disruption caused by multiple excavations. The cost savings of an dig once policy is also estimated at 33%.

A ‘dig once’ approach can accelerate the distribution of digital infrastructure to provide individuals and entire economies with new opportunities. But these results will only happen if governments can effectively coordinate stakeholders and ensure the installation of conduits that provide connectivity in the future.

“Solutions to these complex problems require an ecosystem of willing and united actors.”

—Corey Glickman, Infosys

Obstacles to Dig Once Strategies

Despite the appeal of common sense, adoption of these policies is lagging for a variety of reasons. The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance held workshops with 17 cities around the world to investigate the weaknesses and shortcomings of the World Economic Forum. Dig once politics and identify next steps that could accelerate adoption. The Alliance contacted Infosys to help organize design thinking workshops with pioneering cities in each region.

Map showing the 17 pioneer cities involved in design thinking workshops around excavation policies.

The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance held workshops with 17 cities around the world, led by Infosys, to investigate weaknesses and gaps in the World Economic Forum’s Dig Once policy.

Image: Infosys Knowledge Institute

Pioneer cities represent different geographies, cultures and levels of development, by design. These differences affect how the Dig Once policy model will be adopted and the challenges cities might face.

In Latin America, the lack of transparency in planning and coordination between groups of poorer citizens is often an obstacle. On the other hand, European counterparts may face a lack of coordination between municipal authorities, operators and service providers. Accordingly, the design thinking workshops organized the participants according to their similar needs and challenges.

These workshops uncovered the main factors holding back policy adoption and, therefore, the three most pressing needs in this area:

1) Greater coordination between different authorities, operators and service providers

Coordination between actors, particularly those in the private sector, is a major issue in the expansion of digital connectivity, according to each group of pioneer cities. Companies have reacted positively to dig once policies, but some are not ready to give competitors easy access to their robust fiber connections. In some cases, pro-dig once the legislation stalled indefinitely due to commercial objections.

2) Creation of case studies and open communication between similar cities

Regardless of region, cities want to learn how to deploy digital connectivity together. The desire for best practices and case studies was almost universal in pioneer cities. Governments can learn from cities like London where suppliers are encouraged to collaborate on projects. This offset the costs road closures and permits. Currently, there is no clearinghouse that captures these examples.

3) Greater availability of Geographic Information System (GIS) data

In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “It is a capital error to theorize before having data.” Open GIS data is another requirement for effective exploration policies, as proprietary data inhibits collaboration and causes cascading delays. When operators don’t have a complete view of where power lines, fiber leads, and conduits are located, they can’t start work. These delays extend beyond operators to citizens using the roads and services affected by the works.

Overcome dig once barriers

Cities should develop a governance model that defines the role of each stakeholder and the processes they follow under a single excavation policy. This should address funding for digital infrastructure projects, data sharing, disruptions caused by government transitions, and alignment of stakeholder engagement.

Although cities have different needs and challenges, the basic structure to dig once is universal. Governance model case studies, rollout plan templates, and guidance on how to manage permits can be rearranged to support different cities. The example of London shows how governments can encourage suppliers to collaborate on infrastructure.

Even if the above recommendations are followed, the job is not done. As cities embark on their own journeys of exploration and embrace these recommendations, they must account for and share their successes and failures, creating a virtuous circle of learning.

The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance and the World Economic Forum can serve as a hub to connect cities and their digging efforts. This hub can be the platform for cities to share lessons, successes and failures, and facilitate collaboration between similar cities.

Solutions to bridge the digital divide are difficult, but the stakes are too high to ignore.

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