Since the 2021 passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, states have been prepping middle-mile broadband construction projects to help numerous communities with poor or little internet access get connected into expanding national and regional broadband networks.
The federal government awarded 39 separate contracts across multiple states this summer, focused solely on middle-mile construction via the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The $1 billion earmarked by the IIJA isn’t the only funding heading toward a middle-mile buildout, as state entities have also invested in the process, with the most prominent of the known investments a $3.25-billion pledge by California.
The NTIA’s 39 middle-mile projects total $980 million, a spokesman for the initiative said. The total cost for the 39 projects is over $1.85 billion and involves 46 states, with the goal of connecting local networks to high-capacity national and regional broadband networks. “Middle-mile infrastructure makes this possible,” NTIA spokesperson Dominique Lee says. “By connecting to major networks, local networks can ensure reliable high-speed internet service for even the most remote communities.”
Across the nation, federal money has poured most heavily into Arizona ($251 million), Illinois ($238 million) and Texas ($236 million).
Golden State Broadband
The California Dept. of Technology is leading the state’s effort to acquire, build, maintain and operate an open-access, statewide middle-mile network. California’s Middle Mile Broadband Initiative team wants to deliver all its projects by the end of 2026, before many other states will even break ground.
In 2021, California announced 18 locations to receive upgrades based on information from California telephone and wireless companies regarding open-access internet points, fiber optic lines and planned open-access networks. The California Public Utilities Commission made a GIS map to plan construction and public outreach. The map is being used for stakeholder input as well as notification of new route planning and to notify residents of when contracts will be let and when construction will begin. ArcGIS Online updates to the map can be made by all public utilities and the contractors.
The overall California broadband effort covers 10,101 miles, with 3,501 of those miles requiring new construction. Other sections spelled out in the plan envision the state leasing or purchasing access to pre-existing lines. There is an additional 1,427 miles planned for jointly built projects between the state and third parties.
Lumen Technologies, one of the key contractors hired by California, has already announced a $400-million contract for new network infrastructure. “Right now, we’re focused on meeting the state’s timeline to provide middle mile connectivity by the end of 2026,” Lumen spokesperson Danielle Spears says, adding that Lumen is still working to finalize project details.
Lumen isn’t the only major contractor on board for the California broadband effort. St. Louis-based Arcadian Infracom expanded its public-private collaboration with the state on Arcadian’s planned Los Angeles to Phoenix route, still expected to break ground this year, with a completion date planned for mid 2027. The partnership with California will add three fiber routes as California will become an anchor customer on a new Bay Area-Eureka route and the California portions of the San Jose-Sacramento-Reno and Los Angeles-Las Vegas routes. The California sections of the routes are all expected to be completed by December 2026.
Dan Davis, Arcadian CEO, said in a statement that the company and state worked closely in 2023 to partner on contracts representing over 1,250 route miles of broadband infrastructure.