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The Rise of the Middle Mile in Obama’s Theory of Broadband Stimulus

in Expert Opinion/Recovery Act by

WASHINGTON, December 21, 2009 - Last Thursday's announcement of broadband stimulus - even if it was about two-and-a-half percent of the total broadband stimulus funding - was like manna to broadband industry.

Whether or not broadband activists and broadband builders believe that the federal government will end up playing a significant part of the telecommunications industry, the tension-in-waiting for action has been palpable and long-building.

By the time of Thursday's announcement, it had already been 10 months, to the day, since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

That means that if you divide the $182 million awarded on Thursday with the 303 days between February 17 and December 17, approximately $600,000 a day had been dispensed by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department's Rural Utility Service.

In light of these awards, what probably got less attention was a key policy document released on Thursday by the White House's National Economic Council.

Titled "Recovery Act Investments in Broadband: Leveraging Federal Dollars to Create Jobs and Connect America," this document represents a manifesto for the value of federal engagement in broadband's "middle mile."

"Middle-mile infrastructure is essential for brining broadband to communities that were previously isolated or had only rudimentary connections. By lowering the cost of last-mile connections, investments in the middle mile allow Internet service providers to enter the market and build connections to homes and business," reads the report.

"In addition, Recovery Act middle-mile projects are designed to connect directly to community anchor institutions, providing them with immediate Internet access and improving the critical services they provide."

What is this middle-mile infrastructure?

Just are there are interstate highways, secondary highways, and tertiary roads that lead into neighborhoods, the Internet can be broken into the fiber backbone, the middle mile, and the "last mile" connectivity to homes and businesses.

Telecom and tech officials have been puzzling over the problem of last mile connectivity for years. (So much so, in fact, that some internet purists insist on calling this home-connectivity the "first mile," because it connects people to the rest of the Net.)

The middle mile, by contrast, is coming out for its solo in the spotlight under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and Broadband Infrastructure Program.

Of the funding announced on Thursday, about $170 million of the $182 million total appear to be targeted at this middle mile problem and opportunity.

Many more projects will be announced over the next 70 days. One of the many things that we'll be watching is how the focus on the middle mile continues.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of and President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress. His telecommunications-focused law firm, Drew Clark PLLC, works with cities, rural communities and state economic development entities to promote the benefits of internet connectivity. The articles and posts on and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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