With the release of $930 million in grants to strengthen connections in remote areas of Alaska, rural Texas, and dozens of other regions where significant gaps in connectivity persist, the vast federal project to provide internet access to every home in the U.S. took a critical step forward on Friday.
The Department of Commerce has announced funding for building the “middle mile” to allow retail broadband providers to connect subscribers to the Internet.
The middle mile, made up of high-capacity fiber lines that can transmit enormous amounts of data at very high speeds, is the component of the infrastructure required to provide internet access.
Department officials compare it to how the interstate highway system connects communities.
“These networks are the workhorses carrying large amounts of data over very long distances,” said Mitch Landrieu, the White House’s infrastructure coordinator, in a media Zoom call.
“They’re the ones that are bridging the gap between the larger networks and the last mile connections, from tribal lands to underserved rural and remote areas to essential institutions like hospitals, schools, libraries, and major businesses.”
Various state organizations, tribal governments, and telephone and electric cooperatives received funds. They are meant to start the deployment of new fiber across 35 states and Puerto Rico, totaling 12,000 miles (19,300 kilometers).
A telecoms business in Alaska received the highest grant, worth about $89 million, with plans to create a fiber network through a rural region where an estimated 55% of residents lack access to essential internet.
The extension is one of several measures President Joe Biden’s administration pushes through Congress to provide high-speed internet connectivity nationwide.
“The Middle Mile program is a force multiplier in our efforts to connect everyone in America,” Commerce Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson said. “These grants will help build the foundation of networks that will connect every home in the country to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet service.”
The funds were made possible by the $1 trillion in infrastructure funding signed into law by Democrat Joe Biden in 2021, which included $65 billion in funding for broadband from Congress. The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) initiative, based in part on new federal maps showing places that aren’t linked, will allocate the majority of that money, $42.5 billion, to the states.
At the end of this month, the states’ BEAD allocations are anticipated to be made public. State-run initiatives will then determine the recipients who will develop last-mile networks for underserved areas.
The recipients of the middle mile grants, announced on Friday, will have up to five years to finish their projects after receiving the money, though under specific circumstances, they may ask for a one-year extension.