High-Speed Connectivity

April 1, 2023
How broadband infrastructure will help the roads and bridges construction industry

By David Lieberman, contributing author

The digitization of American life has become routine. To offer products and services, every economic sector relies on computing, cloud storage, or other digital technology, and companies are increasingly looking for workers with sophisticated digital abilities.

Meanwhile, people's personal lives revolve around the internet, whether at home, work, or on the go. Even decades-old infrastructure, from roads and trains to water pipelines and the power grid, is now built, operated, and modernized using digital equipment. 

Broadband has had such an impact on society that it is now considered basic infrastructure. Because of the breadth of its uses, broadband may supply services that touch, at least indirectly, a wide variety of factors that affect health and life outcomes.

However, these advantages can only be realized if every individual has physical access to networks, can afford a subscription and the necessary equipment, and is knowledgeable about broadband-related services. Despite its value, broadband is far from universal in the U.S. According to the 2022 American Community Survey, 70% of American households have fixed broadband, such as cable, fiber optic, or DSL.

In a “normal” federal transportation bill, the funded programs are related to highways, transit, rail, and other surface transportation. Of course, we hardly live in “normal” times, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is far from your usual congressional highway reauthorization.

Indeed, the law is rather an all-encompassing infrastructure stimulus, with congress funding everything from surface transportation to cybersecurity investments and broadband buildout.

In addition to all the social and societal impacts that connectivity brings to everyday life, broadband buildout that enables 5G and high-speed internet can also help to ensure that our infrastructure projects are planned, constructed, operated, and built in more resilient and efficient ways.

Digital construction technologies are proven digital technologies and processes for managing construction and engineering activities, including commercial cloud-based advanced decision-support technologies. But these technologies depend on high-speed connectivity to run smoothly and deliver better results. Once connected to high-speed internet, the engineering and construction benefits include:

  • Real-time Communication. With high-speed broadband, construction companies can communicate in real-time with architects, engineers, and subcontractors, regardless of their location. This connectivity can help ensure that all parties are on the same page, reducing errors and delays.
  • Improved Project Management. Broadband allows construction companies to use cloud-based project management software to track progress, manage resources, and share information in real-time. This capability can help to keep projects on schedule and within budget.
  • Access to Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is a digital representation of a building's physical and functional characteristics. With high-speed broadband, construction companies can use BIM to collaborate with architects, engineers, and other stakeholders in real-time. This technology can help to identify and resolve issues before construction begins, saving time and money.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). VR and AR can be used to create immersive experiences that allow stakeholders to visualize a project before it is built. With high-speed broadband, construction companies can use VR and AR to collaborate with clients, architects, and other stakeholders, ensuring that everyone is on the same page before construction begins.
  • Safety Training. Broadband can be used to deliver safety training to construction workers, regardless of their location. This ability can help to ensure that all workers are trained to the same standard, reducing accidents and injuries on the job.

Overall, the rollout of broadband in the U.S. can help the construction industry to improve communication, project management, collaboration, and safety, leading to more efficient and cost-effective construction projects.

Thankfully, the IIJA funds broadband connectivity. The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is part of the Department of Commerce, are taking the lead through developing five main programs for its buildout.

The largest one is the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, which aims to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs. The BEAD program will fund projects that expand high-speed internet access and use and support infrastructure deployment, mapping, and adoption.

Broadband connectivity is paramount to embracing the ongoing digitization of our society. Ever-increasing economic, educational, and even health-driven aspects of our lives are going digital.

As a result, reliable, consistent high-speed internet is seen as essential as running water and electricity access. In turn, this digitization provides the ability to further adapt digital construction technologies across all forms of infrastructure assets: our bridges, roads, electric grids, and water systems. It will allow unprecedented abilities of asset owners to better design, build, and maintain their assets for generations to come, thus providing even more reliable and sustainable infrastructure for us all, including access to the internet connectivity that we all need. R&B

David Lieberman is the Director of U.S. Government Relations for Bentley Systems