President Obama has signed an Executive Order that commands several key federal agencies to adopt a common set of rules to handle approvals associated with building broadband infrastructure on property owned or controlled by the U.S.

The order includes a “dig once” provision that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to work with private industry to time roadwork projects with communications infrastructure builds. The White House estimates that measure alone could help reduce the costs associated with broadband builds by as much as 90 percent.

The overt goal of the Executive Order is to ease the process of building out broadband networks, but in announcing the measure, the president made it clear that economic issues were also involved.

"Building a nationwide broadband network will strengthen our economy and put more Americans back to work," said President Obama. "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."

To that end, the president also announced a program called the U.S. Ignite Partnership, designed to be a coordinating body for the various private industries that would build, maintain and use high-speed programmable broadband networks.

The roster of companies and organizations involved include Comcast and Verizon, along with several other service providers receiving funds under the Recovery Act (the Broadband Initiative), Cisco, Juniper, NEC, Hewlett-Packard, a coalition of research universities, hospitals and community-based non-profits, about two dozen U.S. cities, and several U.S. agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Commerce and Agriculture.

The moves were immediately applauded by the communications industry.

ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka said: "In the last decade, ACA members have been aggressively deploying broadband in smaller markets and rural areas, and these operators are continuously looking to make further investments in unserved and underserved areas. However, these opportunities for broadband deployment are far too often delayed or derailed because of the inability of ACA members to receive necessary or timely rights of way on reasonable terms, including over federal land.

“The Executive Order signed by the president directs the federal agencies to facilitate access to federal land and facilities, which should stimulate broadband deployment by ACA members and help to strengthen the economy through increased private investment and job creation,” Polka continued.

Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) President Grant Seiffert commented: “Timely access to federal lands, buildings and highways is vital to reaching underserved areas and to deploying the broadband infrastructure of tomorrow. In particular, the development of ‘dig once’ policies by the Department of Transportation is a common-sense initiative that will greatly reduce the costs of deploying broadband infrastructure.”