HOUSTON, May 4, 2022 – Experts have agreed that educating stakeholders about the importance of middle-mile infrastructure is paramount to connecting underserved and unserved rural communities.
At the Broadband Communities Summit 2022, experts said the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act appears to downplay the role of middle mile infrastructure and contributes to the lay perception that middle mile infrastructure is less important than the last mile.
The IIJA will provide $42.5 billion to improve broadband infrastructure, but only $1 billion is intended to be spent on developing the middle mile – the transport portion of the network connecting the last mile, which is the connection to homes and businesses.
“We put a lot of emphasis on the last kilometer, and there should be, but we also have to focus on the intermediate kilometer”, J. Brent Legg, Connect Nation’s executive vice president for government affairs said Wednesday. “A billion dollars doesn’t go very far.”
“[Middle mile infrastructure] is integral, Kelly McGriff, Uniti Group Inc. Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, said. McGriff explained that even if there is enough last-mile infrastructure, it doesn’t matter, because broadband service can only be as good as its weakest component. “There’s no point in having a massive pipe if all you have is a garden hose connecting it – one hand washing the other.”
FiberLight Vice President Public Sector Mike Ellison said that even though the last mile is virgin fiber, connecting that fiber to an underfunded middle mile infrastructure that uses copper will cause packet loss and latency.
“No one wants to talk about the backhaul”
“People don’t really understand what the problem is,” Ellison said. “How [the lack of middle mile infrastructure] impacts people – how it impacts schools.
“The hardest part is educating people about [middle mile infrastructure] and bring them to the table for a conversation,” he said.
McGriff said when he approaches stakeholders at the local and state level, “no one wants to talk about the backhaul,” adding, “there just isn’t a lot of discussion around the middle mile.”
“There’s 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 the lack of intermediate hubs and internet exchange points has stunted the growth of networks. “There must be more hubs to be built closer to the edge of the network.”
Along with creating more hubs, Legg said middle mile and last mile operators should work together to create the best end-user experience. “A big 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 mid-range connectivity that makes it possible,” Legg added.