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Transforming Broadband: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act


Thanks to innovation, technology opportunities arise all the time like faster connections, new software, and specialized processors. We’re accustomed to those changes, leverage those changes, and are glad for those changes. However, those opportunities are mostly incremental improvements. Few of them have the potential to radically change how millions of people and organizations learn, communicate, and grow.

Today, we’re on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform how the United States supports and sustains better digital innovation, and leading organizations are already thinking about the possibilities. Thanks to the recently passed  Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a law aimed at pushing our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness in new directions, we’re about to see a radical shift in how broadband connectivity connects people, institutions, and communities around the country.

And it’s all due to the Act’s focus on middle mile infrastructure.

First, what IS middle mile infrastructure?

We’ve seen it defined as “the connections from national and major regional internet backbones to local networks,” and that’s as good a definition as any. It’s the high-performance network that reaches out from backbones toward, but not reaching end-users. The local networks, or last mile infrastructure, are the broadband connections we’re all familiar with from our local providers.

Second, why does the Act address middle mile infrastructure?

You might think that the United States is thoroughly covered with middle mile infrastructure, but you’d be wrong. That’s because middle mile infrastructure is costly and complex to install. Substantial parts of the country don’t have adequate middle mile infrastructure, resulting in sub-standard broadband performance and/or reliability, or simply no access at all.

More than 30 million Americans live without adequate broadband, and this “digital divide” has social and economic impacts. Businesses wishing to relocate can’t choose locations without adequate middle mile infrastructure, institutions like hospitals and community colleges can’t provide the digital services other institutions can (reducing their competitiveness), and end users can’t fully participate in the digital economy.

Building new middle mile infrastructure is the key to addressing these challenges, so the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides 1 billion dollars in grant money to address the problem.

What does the law say?

Section 60401 provides for grants, through the NTIA,  to work on the following technologies:

“(i) leased dark fiber, interoffice transport, backhaul, carrier-neutral internet exchange facilities, carrier-neutral submarine cable landing stations, undersea cables, transport connectivity to data centers, special access transport, and other similar services; and (ii) wired or private wireless broadband infrastructure, including microwave capacity, radio tower access, and other services or infrastructure for a private wireless broadband network, such as towers, fiber, and microwave links.”

And it provides support to more than a dozen kinds of institutions, including:

“(A) a State, political subdivision of a State, Tribal government, technology company, electric utility, utility cooperative, public utility district, telecommunications company, telecommunications cooperative, nonprofit foundation, nonprofit corporation, nonprofit institution, nonprofit association, regional planning counsel, Native entity, or economic development authority; or (B) a partnership of 2 or more entities described in subparagraph (A).”

The grant awards come with a set of priorities, including:

  • Leveraging existing rights-of-way, assets, and infrastructure
  • Choosing routes that enable the connection of unserved or underserved anchor institutions, like city government, hospitals, and schools
  • The development of carrier-neutral interconnection facilities
  • Improving the redundancy and resiliency of existing infrastructure
  • Reducing regulatory and permitting barriers for new construction

As you can see from the scope of the law, grants will be awarded to a wide range of middle mile infrastructure projects, comprising different technologies, different scopes, different objectives, and different partners.

Of course, many of the institutions mentioned in the bill lack any direct experience with middle mile infrastructure. Some bring existing rights-of-way to the conversation, some bring existing fiber capacity, some bring the ability to expedite permitting, but few have a proven track record delivering massive middle mile infrastructure projects around the United States. Nevertheless, thanks to this grant program, hundreds of organizations will, in years to come, be involved in a radical revamp of middle mile infrastructure.

At Zayo, we’re excited in an entirely new way. In Zayo’s view, this Act is not only an unprecedented opportunity to extend and expand middle mile infrastructure, it’s also an unprecedented opportunity for public/private partnerships to emerge, delivering unprecedented outcomes. After all, companies like Zayo that exist to roll out middle mile infrastructure, building on an extensive network, can and will partner with governments, foundations and telecommunications co-ops to make sure that middle mile infrastructure extends beyond current levels, resolving the digital divide and giving more Americans the access to information, products, and services they deserve.

We have a track record of partnering with state and local organizations to extend middle mile infrastructure including the CDOT i70 build in Colorado, providing a fiber backbone to support a key transportation and commerce route. In Minnesota, Zayo worked in partnership with Anoka County to provide much needed high-speed broadband services to one of the most resource-challenged communities in Minnesota. These are just two examples of how Zayo works with local communities to provide connectivity where it’s needed most.

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