By Ambreen Ali, CQ Staff

President Obama plans to sign an executive order on Thursday that draws upon a congressional proposal to lower the cost of deploying broadband Internet access across the country.


According to a preview of the executive order released by the White House, the administration will require federal agencies to ensure that broadband infrastructure projects, such as laying fiber-optic cables, coincide with ongoing highway construction whenever possible to reduce private companies’ costs of expanding their high-speed Internet networks.


The proposal is similar to one floating in Congress — dubbed “dig once” by its Democratic proponents — that would require the Transportation Department to lay plastic pipes when it constructs federal highways. Wireless carriers could then run communications cables through those pipes when they expand their networks.


Digging up and rebuilding roads comprises 90 percent of private companies’ cost of broadband cable deployment, according to the Federal Highway Administration. By contrast, including the pipes during construction adds just a 1 percent cost to existing highway projects.


After failing to advance “dig once” legislation, Democrats urged the administration in letters to implement the policy on its own. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia, co-sponsors of the Senate measure (S 1939), issued a statement Wednesday praising the White House for heeding their advice.


Similarly, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California, sponsor of a companion bill (HR 1695), called the administration’s order “a common-sense idea.”


“Much like my ‘dig once’ proposal, this executive order will help bring broadband to underserved communities nationwide and with limited federal investment,” said Democrat Eshoo, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.


Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry A. Waxman of California, a co-sponsor of Eshoo’s legislation, also issued praise.


“Efficient use of federal lands and facilities along with prudent planning of new infrastructure projects will promote the expansion of broadband with significant cost savings to the American taxpayer,” Waxman said in a statement. “This is a win for the American people.”


Republicans did not immediately comment on the executive order, which also requires that federal agencies develop a uniform leasing process for wireless carriers seeking to run cables through public lands. Large portions of telecommunications networks, including those that connect wireless cell towers, run along highways.


The executive order is part of a series of White House actions issued under the “We Can’t Wait” banner designed to show that the president is taking steps to revive the economy without help from Congress.


“Building a nationwide broadband network will strengthen our economy and put more Americans back to work,” Obama said in a statement. “By connecting every corner of our country to the digital age, we can help our businesses become more competitive, our students become more informed and our citizens become more engaged.”


The executive order drew praise from manufacturers and network suppliers. In a statement, the Telecommunications Industry Association heralded it as “a common-sense initiative that will greatly reduce the costs of deploying broadband infrastructure.”


In addition to the infrastructure initiative, the administration announced the “U.S. Ignite Partnership,” in which cities and corporate and nonprofit entities will join national research universities, with the goal of creating “a new wave of services that take advantage of state-of-the-art, programmable broadband networks.”