“The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program provides funding for this vital part of our nation's high-speed network. With $1 billion in funding, the program will reduce the cost of bringing high-speed internet to unserved and underserved communities.” Broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov
The “Middle Mile”:
The program defines middle mile infrastructure as broadband infrastructure which “does not connect directly to an end-user location” and can include leased dark fiber, interoffice transport, backhaul, carrier-neutral exchange facilities, undersea cables, and transport connectivity to data centers. It also includes “wired or private wireless broadband infrastructure” such as microwave capacity and radio tower access.
Why has the Middle Mile been such an issue across much of rural America? There are two primary reasons:
- Large, expansive coverage areas – spanning transport connectivity over extremely large areas to reach remote communities can be cost prohibitive and exceedingly time consuming. Not to mention that the remote communities, with low population density, may not have enough subscribers to provide a return on the infrastructure investment. When considering Fiber deployments, this is especially true. Laying fiber and FTTH is very expensive and can take months, if not years, to complete. Wireless has already eased much of these issues and enabled operators to expand their coverage areas. But as the U.S. coverage maps show us, there is still a very high number of unserved/underserved households.
- Challenging terrain/geography – much of the rural U.S. consists of mountains, hills, lakes, rivers, and sand, which are near impossible to dig trenches and lay cables across.
Therefore, a specific funding program for the Middle Mile has been created. Its goal is to extend the Internet backbone across challenging areas and reach closer to underserved communities where a last mile solution, that can finally deliver broadband to the home, can be implemented. Additionally, the program promotes broadband resiliency through the creation of alternative network connection paths designed to prevent single points of failure on a broadband network.
While Ceragon network has solutions for all kinds of rural connectivity, The Middle Mile is where we especially shine. Our millimeter and microwave point-to-point solutions provide superior, multi-gigabit backbone connectivity. Our wireless capabilities allow expansive, long-range connections that can augment fiber networks and that can be quickly, affordably, and easily deployed – even in challenging terrain.
It is important to point out, that unlike the BEAD program, which is managed by individual states, the Middle Mile Program will be administered directly by NTIA. All applications will be submitted directly to, be evaluated by, and awarded by NTIA.
There are many types of entities that are eligible to apply for this program:
- States or political subdivisions of a State
- Tribal governments
- Technology companies
- Electric utilities and cooperatives
- Public utility districts
- Telecommunications companies and cooperatives
- Nonprofit foundations, corporations, institutions, and associations
- Regional planning councils
- Native entities
- Economic development authorities
Noteworthy, NTIA will give higher scoring to partnerships of two or more entities described above.
Evaluation of Applications: as NTIA will consider the middle mile applications, there are several factors that will help them evaluate and award funds, including:
- Adopt fiscally sustainable middle mile strategies
- Must offer terrestrial and/or wireless last mile broadband providers connectivity to middle mile infrastructure
- Has identified specific last mile broadband providers that have expressed interest in the middle mile connectivity or demonstrated business plans or funding sources to connect to the middle mile
- identified supplemental investments or in-kind support that will help accelerate the completion of the project (i.e. waved permitting fees); Demonstrated the middle mile infrastructure will benefit national security interests of the US and the Department of Defense.
The application acceptance timeline has just opened on June 21, 2022 and will continue until September 30, 2022. This is a relatively small window. If you are interested in accessing these funds and submitting an application, don’t hesitate to reach out to Ceragon for help in any step – the applications, the middle mile network plan, the deployment, the ongoing management and optimization of the network… whatever you need, we are here to support you.
The Act requires the agency to prioritize projects that: (i) leverage existing rights-of-way, assets, and infrastr\ucture (ii) enable the connection of unserved anchor institutions, including Tribal anchor institutions; (iii) facilitate the development of carrier-neutral interconnection facilities; and, (iv) improve redundancy and resilience while reducing regulatory and permitting barriers.
NTIA will also prioritize any project in which the applicant has done two or more of the following:
- Adopted fiscally sustainable middle mile strategies
- Committed to offering non-discriminatory interconnection to wired and wireless last mile broadband providers and any other party making a bona fide request
- Identified in the application specific terrestrial and wireless last mile broadband providers that have expressed written interest in interconnecting and demonstrated sustainable business plans or adequate funding
- Identified supplemental investments or in-kind support (such as waived franchise or permitting fees) that will accelerate the completion of the planned project
- Demonstrated that the middle mile infrastructure will benefit national security interests of the United States and the Department of Defense
Connections to Anchor Institutions
As covered previously by our blog discussing the introduction to the IIJA funding, connecting “Anchor institutions”, such as schools, libraries, and hospitals, will help, and may be required for application approval. Entities that receive middle mile grants must ensure the network can provide 1 Gbps service to anchor institutions and must offer direct interconnection to anchor institutions located within 1,000 feet of the middle mile facilities.
Interconnection and Nondiscrimination
An interesting point made by NTIA for the Middle Mile grant recipients, is that their backbone networks must “offer interconnection in perpetuity, where technically feasible, without exceeding current or reasonably anticipated capacity limitations, on reasonable rates and terms to be negotiated with requesting parties.” The nature of the interconnection must include the ability to connect to the public Internet, as well as physical interconnection for the exchange of traffic.
Additional Merit Points
NTIA will calculate and weigh scores of all applications. Meeting the below points are a few examples that will earn additional merit points for applicants:
- Reduce end-user prices
- Reduce latency in remote or insular areas
- Benefit unserved areas or Tribal Lands
- Connect unserved anchor institutions
- Demonstrate climate resilience
- Provide other benefits (e.g., redundancy, direct interconnect facilities)
- Meet community’s needs and complete project in two-year period
Matching Funds and Timeline
The amount of a middle mile grant awarded to an eligible entity may not exceed 70% of the total project cost – in other words, the applicant must be able to cover 30% of the project cost. This is where critical infrastructure companies can contribute to a successful application by providing in-kind assets, including rights-of-way, existing fiber capacity, tower space and radio equipment infrastructure to support the middle mile project. The contribution of existing infrastructure also will help the applicant meet statutory deadlines. A winning applicant must complete its buildout of the middle mile infrastructure within five years of the date the grant is made available.
Ceragon is here to help. We can walk you through some of the basics to help determine if the middle mile program is right for you and help you identify initial preparations, timelines, and network planning. You are not alone. More importantly, our experts can help you create a network deployment plan that best meets your specific needs – challenging geography, remote or sparse subscribers, keeping operating costs low, meeting customer demands, reliability, high-capacity, ongoing optimization, and so much more. Let Ceragon help you formulate your plans and find the solutions that are best suited for you and your community.
A quick guide to overall funding from NTIA IIJA Broadband Programs:
For full details and other requirements, applicants are encouraged to consult the application packet which will be posted on the NTIA website at https://grants.ntia.gov/.
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