Who Are Middle Mile Providers?
Middle mile service may be offered by a wide range of entities, from traditional retail Internet Service Providers, large technology companies that do not offer retail Internet service at all, or electric utilities that increasingly recognize their capability to transform the communications market. Regardless of who deploys and operates them, middle mile connections are crucial to connectivity and competition.
The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program is a $1 billion program funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the construction, improvement or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure. If you’re reading this, you’re likely looking for tips on how to “score big” as you finalize application ahead of the September 30, 2022, deadline.
The Project Information section is the second major section of the middle mile grant application. This portion provides space for applicants to describe the details and timeline of their project. It includes an executive summary, a “level of need narrative”, and a description of government and community involvement.
In these sections, applicants will be expected to demonstrate non-discriminatory interconnection, discuss last mile providers who intend to use your middle mile network in order to deliver high-speed and affordable Internet to unserved and underserved homes, document in-kind support or investments that expedite your schedule, and identify if the project might benefit national security.
For a successful application, an applicant must make a binding commitment to prioritize at least one of the following:
- Connecting middle mile infrastructure to last mile networks that service unserved areas;
- Connecting non-contiguous trust lands; and/or
- Offering wholesale broadband service at reasonable rates.
Additionally, applicants will be prioritized for Programmatic Review if they average an 80+ in merit and commit to at least 2 of the following 5 criteria:
- Adopt fiscally sustainable middle mile strategies;
- Commit to offer non-discriminatory interconnect to parties that request it;
- Identify specific terrestrial and wireless last mile broadband providers that have requested interconnection and demonstrated sustainable plans;
- Identify supplemental investment or in-kind support to accelerate completion of project; and
- Demonstrate that middle mile grant infrastructure will benefit national security interests.
Many of the weighting factors for Programmatic Review are found in the project portion of the application. One weighting factor includes the likelihood of material reduction in end-user Internet costs.
Other key factors to include are how the proposed project will result in the decline of costs that are likely to flow through to consumer broadband prices. Could this be accomplished with interconnection to the proposed network? What are the rate plans that last mile providers plan to offer if they could connect to this project? What is the current competitive offering, if any?
As part of the application, applicants will be asked to provide a level of need narrative. The level of need narrative is a great place to describe the substantial benefits to communities. Applicants will be weighted regarding their description of substantial benefits to high-poverty counties, persistent poverty counties, or a substantial number of households. The level of need narrative can also demonstrate benefits to unserved and/or Tribal lands.
The complete project details are crucial to a successful application. For more details about the program details section, please visit the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program webpage at Internetforall.gov.
Be Complete and Score Big
- Have you adequately demonstrated your commitment to one of the three prioritizations outlined in the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program Notice of Funding Opportunity?
- How does the project address comprehensiveness and appropriateness of the proposed technical solution for meeting the community’s needs? Did you include your organization’s technical experience with the proposed solution and project?
- How will a proposed project demonstrate that unserved or underserved areas will benefit?
- To what extent will the proposed project improve affordability in already-served markets?
- Have you provided details for how many and which last mile providers are interested in your plan and how many un/underserved households might those providers connect, if your middle mile project were selected?
- How many unserved households could be served if a last mile provider connected to your middle mile? Do these last mile providers offer retail services, in order to help small businesses participate in a largely online marketplace?
In summary, applications for the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program that are most likely to be successful will remember the basics for scoring big:
- Focus on how the project will meet the needs the program intends to address.
- Submit all of the required forms through the grant portal.
- Provide complete, detailed information in each section of the application.
- Check documents for consistency and accuracy.
NTIA recently held a series of office hours sessions hosted by NTIA staff and subject matter experts who answered questions from prospective applicants with the intent to prepare them to write complete, high-quality applications. For more information about the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program Office Hours Sessions, please visit https://www.internetforall.gov/webinars.