In today’s seemingly always-on, always-connected world, it may be surprising to learn that many people in the United States still lack affordable and reliable broadband. This limits their ability to access critical public services, healthcare, economic opportunities, and education, putting them at an immediate disadvantage and creating social and digital inequality. In the past, serving all communities with high-speed broadband profitably was a challenge. One of the main obstacles to bridging the digital divide has been cost-effectively deploying and operating the networks required to reach remote regions with lower population densities. Add that to the costs associated with over-building networks in more lucrative urban centers, and the numbers didn’t make sense. All that is changing.

The U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law in 2021, provides roughly $45 billion in public funds to support new infrastructure builds and subsidize access. This is opening new business models and partnership opportunities between the public sector and communication service providers (CSPs) to expand broadband and improve access to digital services.

One such opportunity is the $1 billion that the IIJA has allocated for the creation of new middle mile networks. The IIJA describes the middle mile network as “the mid-section of internet infrastructure that carries large amounts of data at high speeds over long distances and connects the backbone of internet infrastructure to the last mile, which connects to the end user.”

So how can investing in middle mile networks help close the digital divide?

I’ve posed this exact question to three of my Cisco colleagues, who share their excitement over why this is the perfect opportunity for CSPs, public sectors, and communities to help close the digital divide in the U.S. Check out their answers as well as their videos below.

Vinti Batiste, VP US Segments and Countries in Americas Service Provider: Federal funding for middle mile networks will make it economical for CSPs to build infrastructure in areas where it was previously uneconomical – and hence, make broadband more available. Moreover, a shared middle mile infrastructure will lower the transport costs for the last mile broadband providers, thereby making broadband more affordable. And finally, the technology is now right-sized and right-priced to make this a win-win-win for CSPs, public sectors, and communities to get on board.

Gary DePreta, VP US State, Local Governments, and Education: We’re seeing a lot of innovation in the market with not only the technological innovation but also the innovation in new business models and new business partnerships where public and private sectors are working together. The public sector has demonstrated success with new middle mile business models fueling investment in last mile broadband access. The IIJA funding provides the opportunity to scale these models.

Angela Finn, Global Director Routing & Optical: Today, the CapEx and OpEx required to build and maintain broadband networks are amplified because there are multiple overlapping or redundant networks, many times in already served areas that were built with legacy network architectures. These costs can be reduced by simplifying the network with innovative technology such as Cisco’s Routed Optical Networking solution. Networks built with a routed optical network have been shown to lower total cost of ownership by 46% over traditional architectures (along with gains in time to service, protection, and sustainability). This makes broadband more available and affordable, creating a digitally inclusive future for all!

Now is an exciting time because we have the tools needed to bridge the digital divide and help reduce digital inequality: public funding, new business models, and the technology to bring it all together. We love seeing the progress our customers are making to improve broadband access and affordability in their communities, helping their neighbors get connected to opportunities and information that was once beyond their reach.

Take a few minutes to learn more about how we are helping our customers close the digital divide with rural broadband networking solutions, public sector solutions, and our Routed Optical Networking solution for middle mile networks.


John Chapman

Cisco CTO Broadband & Fellow

Cisco’s Cable Access Unit