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Middle Mile Infrastructure Just as Important as Last Mile, Panel Says

The funding priorities of IIJA has created the false perception that middle mile is not as important as last mile, experts say.

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J. Brent Legg (far-left), Kelly McGriff (center-left), Mike Ellison (center-right), Sean Buckley (far-right) at Broadband Communities Summit 2022

HOUSTON, May 4, 2022 – Experts agreed that educating stakeholders on the importance of middle mile infrastructure is paramount to connect underserved and unserved rural communities.

During the Broadband Communities Summit 2022, experts said that the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act seems to deemphasize the role of middle mile infrastructure and contributes to the lay perception that middle mile infrastructure is less important than last mile.

The IIJA will provide $42.5 billion to improve broadband infrastructure, but only $1 billion is designated to be spent on the development of the middle mile — the transport part of the network connecting to the last mile, which is the connection to homes and businesses.

“There has been a lot of emphasis on last mile, and there should be, but there also needs to be emphasis on middle mile,” J. Brent Legg, Connect Nation executive vice president for government affairs said Wednesday. “A billion dollars does not go very far.”

“[Middle mile infrastructure] is integral,” Kelly McGriff, Uniti Group Inc. vice president and deputy general counsel, said. McGriff explained that even if there is sufficient infrastructure on the last mile side of things, it does not matter, because broadband service can only be as good as its weakest component. “There is no reason to have a massive pipe if all you have is a garden hose connecting it – one hand washes the other.”

FiberLight Vice President of Public Sector Mike Ellison said that even if the last mile is comprised of pristine fiber, connecting that fiber to underfunded middle mile infrastructure that uses copper will create packet loss and latency.

‘Nobody wants to talk about the backhaul’

“People do not really understand what the problem is,” Ellison said. “How [the lack of middle mile infrastructure] is impacting people – how it is impacting schools.”

“The tough part is educating folks about [middle mile infrastructure] and getting them to the table for a conversation,” he said.

McGriff said that when he approaches stakeholders at the local and state level, “Nobody wants to talk about the backhaul,” adding, “There is just not a lot of talking around middle mile.”

“There is a lot of education to be done at the federal level, at the state level, and at the local level,” Legg said.

Legg described how a lack of middle mile hubs and internet exchange points has stunted the growth of networks. “There need to be more hubs need to be built out closer to the network’s edge.”

In addition to creating more hubs, Legg said that middle mile and last mile operators would have to work together to create the best end-user experience. “A huge part of solving this problem [is working with last mile operators to increase bandwidth and lower costs],” he said.

“Last mile connectivity is only as good as the middle connectivity that make it possible,” Legg added.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Funding

34 States Submit Letters of Intent to Participate in NTIA’s Main Broadband Program

National Telecommunications and Information Administration announces news on its ‘Internet for All’ web portal for three IIJA programs.

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Photo of Gina Raimondo from CNBC

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – The Biden administration announced Wednesday that 34 states and territories signed on to participate in the programs outlined by its “Internet for All” initiative.

The “Internet for All” moniker is the new umbrella web site of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration for its three programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: the Broadband Digital Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the State Digital Equity Act programs.

These programs are part of the administration’s goals of bridging the digital divide and achieving universal broadband by 2030.

Since NITA announced the IFA on Friday, the following territories and states announced their intention to participate: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, American Samoa, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, United States Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stated that the NTIA’s programs would be critical to allowing Americans to “participate in the modern economy.”

“Generations before us brought electricity to rural America and built the interstate highways,” said Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA administrator. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states are now ‘signing on’ to this initiative to promote Internet access and adoption so that everyone in America has a chance to thrive in the modern economy.”

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Infrastructure

Red States May Oppose Affordability, Labor and Climate Policies Provided for in NTIA Broadband Rules

Such state action could potentially the delay the implementation of the broadband policy, says Fiber Broadband Association counsel.

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Photo of Chris Champion, chair of FBA's public policy committee, by INCOMPAS used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Counsel for trade association the Fiber Broadband Association said Wednesday that states with Republican governments may oppose broadband affordability, labor and climate policies provided for in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Notice of Funding Opportunity released Friday for implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Such action could delay implementation of policies laid out in the NOFO.

Tom Cohen, FBA’s counsel, spoke about the possibility during a discussion hosted by the FBA breaking down the NOFO, including issues and opportunities going forward based on it.

Affordability plan proposals were also stated to be a concern for internet service providers, many of who believe the policy could force them to pass down costs to consumers and increase subscription prices.

Another concern raised in the discussion was that the NOFO’s regulations make it difficult for new and small providers to take advantage of the infrastructure bill.

Chris Champion, vice president of government relations for ISP C Spire and a chair of FBA’s public policy committee, suggested that the NTIA may have structured its policies this way on purpose to ensure most infrastructure builds come from experienced providers who already know how to expand networks.

The discussion also noted a lack of policy in the NOFO on hotly debated Buy America requirements for providers to use domestic materials in construction of products and suggested that providers should look to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for details on the requirements.

Cohen also raised that whether the grant money providers receive from the bill will be taxable income is another question which must be worked out and clarified, saying that some individuals he has spoken to believe it will in fact be taxed.

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Funding

States Should Use Treasury Department’s Broadband Funds to Compliment Infrastructure Bill

Director of the Capital Projects Fund said the fund should be used with infrastructure bill money to close broadband gaps.

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Screenshot of Joseph Wender

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – States should use the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund in conjunction with money from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to cover gaps in broadband service, said the CPF’s director on Wednesday.

With the release by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of funding application guidelines last week, states are focused on how they can access part of the $65 billion offered through the IIJA.

But CPF Director Joseph Wender said at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday that the CPF money is available right now to close the gaps in broadband coverage and will be most effective when used as a precursor to IIJA funds that will provide permanent solutions to coverage gaps. He suggested that states view IIJA funds as “complementary” to capital projects.

Screenshot of Joseph Wender

“We expect to make our first awards to those first states in a matter of weeks, potentially days,” said Wender. “The Capital Projects Fund is the tip of the spear in the administration’s goal of closing the digital divide.”

States are responsible to determine with local entities where the money will go, said Wender, provided the individual programs follow all Treasury Department requirements.

The CPF was instituted in March of 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the need for communities to access high-speed internet.

It allocates $10 billion to the U.S. Department of Treasury for critical capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring. It is charged to get the money out to states as soon as possible to help the nation recover from the pandemic.

The money can be used for broadband infrastructure, digital connectivity technologies such as device programs to supply citizens with devices that connect to the internet or public Wi-Fi, and multi-purpose community facilities that are publicly available.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022, 12 Noon ET – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund and Broadband Infrastructure

The release of the U.S. Commerce Department’s rules on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act heightens the importance of inter-agency coordination on broadband projects. In this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online event, Joseph Wender, director of the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund will speak with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark about the role of the Treasury Department in broadband infrastructure spending.

Panelists:

  • Joseph Wender, Director, U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund
  • Drew Clark (presenter and host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources

Joseph Wender currently serves as Director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund.  Wender previously served for nearly 13 years on Capitol Hill, most recently as Senator Ed Markey’s Senior Policy Advisor, where he led a team covering a wide range of issues including telecommunications and infrastructure.  Wender also worked as then-Representative Markey’s Legislative Director.  Prior to working for Markey, Wender served as Counsel for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  He received his B.A. from Wesleyan University and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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