This summer, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced awards for the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program. This program offers over $930 million to middle mile providers to help fund the expansion of long-distance networks that bridge the gaps between last mile fiber, cable, fixed wireless providers, and the global internet with the bandwidth necessary to connect unserved and underserved populations (roughly 1 out of 5 American households [1]). These networks also often connect radio towers, data centers, and carrier-neutral exchange facilities.

Middle mile brings major opportunities for residents

NTIA received over 260 applications totaling $7.47 billion in funding requests, underscoring the need to build middle mile networks across the country. The need is especially urgent to connect rural areas so that last mile providers can begin building in these communities. Much of the need is being driven by the rapid increase in devices and high bandwidth applications (video streaming, conferencing, immersive reality/metaverse, and smart home applications). Plus, Community Anchor Institutions or CAIs (schools, governments, hospitals, etc.) are aggressively digitizing services to their customers, adding to the need for more robust communication infrastructure on-site and wherever users may remotely access services.

Fiber Connect 2023 Broadband Conference Cisco Speakers

For many rural communities and tribes, providing affordable broadband service and options for residential and business subscribers is a big challenge. That’s why many states and counties are leveraging NTIA grants, as well as other programs, to rapidly buildout middle mile. This encourages ISPs/CSPs to expand service in their areas, spurring economic opportunities. A few great examples include:

By transforming their infrastructure, these newly connected communities have the opportunity to give residents easier access to education and healthcare. It also lets them participate in the digital economy. But fiber doesn’t get you there alone.

The keys to making middle mile work

Building these networks are more complex than just adding capacity. They must also be affordable to operate so that the cost of internet access can remain affordable as well. This can be done in two key ways.

  • First, new business models are challenging the previously integrated business models of telecommunication operators. Open Access Middle Mile (OAMM) continues to gain relevance through public and/or private partnerships. They also seek to improve economic impacts to those communities by encouraging private investors and creating new jobs. These networks are increasingly connecting CAIs to improve the performance of applications for distance learning, telehealth, smart grids, plus access to government services. Partnerships with CAIs can also open the door to other federal and state grant programs, plus government bonds.
  • Second, new technologies are simplifying the operation of these networks while reducing power consumption by removing traditional network components. Cisco’s Silicon One architecture lets systems scale significantly and is feature-rich, uses less power, and reduces your carbon footprint. Paired with Pluggable Coherent Optics (long haul optics with low power use) they form the basis of Cisco’s Routed Optical Network (RON) that simplifies the network by collapsing the routing and optical layers into the router. This decreases points of failure in the network, creating more resiliency while simplifying management. This is a game changer, driving down costs for middle mile operators. ACG Research found that RON reduces operational cost by up to 57% and initial capital costs by up to 35% when compared to traditional architectures [2].  This simplified approach also allows governments and utilities to more economically manage their own metro networks.

Go the middle mile today

As a global leader in IT, Cisco believes that technology can bring positive change to our communities. That’s why we’re leveraging our solutions and services to help you connect, secure, and automate their networks to extend connectivity to everyone regardless of geographic or economic limitations.

By leveraging the new generation of Cisco broadband solutions, you can help meet the needs of a growing hybrid workforce, deliver more capacity to rural areas, and bridge the digital divide in underserved communities. Take your next steps to middle mile success:




1 NTIA’s Internet for All Website

2 The Economic Benefits of IP Transport at 400G White Paper








Albert Garcia

Public Sector Broadband Lead

US Public Sector