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July 28, 2021

King, Rosen Introduce Legislation to Improve Rural Broadband Connectivity by Building “Middle-Mile” Infrastructure

WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) are introducing the Middle Mile Broadband Deployment Act to expand access to high-speed, affordable broadband. This legislation would help build needed “middle-mile” broadband infrastructure, which is essential to connect internet carriers to local networks and community institutions and increase affordable broadband access to unserved and underserved communities.  While much of the national debate around improving broadband access focuses on connecting homes to the internet the “last-mile”, there have been fewer conversations about “middle-mile” – the section of a network that connects the backbone of the internet to a local connection site like schools, libraries, or government offices. Middle-mile networks bring data to and from an internet backbone to local networks.

“As our nation and economy becomes increasingly digital, too many Maine people without reliable broadband access are being locked out of the connections to work, school, healthcare, and commerce that many across the nation take for granted,” said Senator King. “As we seek to address this problem, we must use every resource at our disposal to speed broadband deployment and keep costs down. Our legislation to invest in ‘middle mile’ infrastructure would do just that, by increasing competition and the capacity of broadband networks nationwide. This is an important step to make sure that every community across the country has affordable access to the high-speed, reliable broadband connection they need to pursue economic and educational success.”

"In introducing this legislation, Senators King and Rosen understand what is required to bring robust broadband services to all Americans and the critical importance of investing in middle-mile broadband infrastructure,” said Jeff Letourneau, Executive Director, Networkmaine. “Open middle-mile broadband infrastructure is a prerequisite to competitive, successful last-mile broadband networks, especially in rural states like Maine, as it connects these networks to the internet nationally and globally. Local, state and federal governments, along with the private sector, will be investing billions of dollars in last-mile broadband networks in the coming years. This legislation will multiply the value of these networks many times over and help ensure rural America can fully participate in modern society."

“EEI and our member electric companies commend Senators Rosen and King for prioritizing middle-mile broadband infrastructure as part of the effort to expand affordable and reliable broadband access for all Americans,” said Tom Kuhn, President of the Edison Electric Institute. “The COVID-19 pandemic clearly highlighted that there still are many unserved and underserved communities across the country, and the Middle Mile Broadband Deployment Act will significantly boost the opportunities for the electric power industry to help close the digital divide. EEI member companies are well-positioned to build out the middle-mile broadband infrastructure needed to help reach these communities, in partnership with the telecommunications companies and last-mile internet providers that ultimately will connect customers.”

“I thank Senators Rosen and King for introducing legislation that will enable middle mile broadband infrastructure,” said Steven K. Berry, President and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association. “Rural and hard-to-reach areas stand to benefit greatly from access to critical mobile broadband services, and the numerous economic, educational, health, safety, and social benefits that come with this access will help close the digital divide.  Providing non-discriminatory access to middle mile for backhaul to support wireless deployments and 5G is extremely important. I thank the Senators for their leadership on this issue and look forward to continued work with Congress on this very important infrastructure legislation.” 

Last-mile connectivity depends on solid middle-mile infrastructure to connect a local community to the outside world.  These networks can provide savings that incentivize last-mile providers to build in remote areas and help increase competition. By ensuring nondiscriminatory or “open-access” to these networks, internet service providers, including co-ops and rural carriers, can reduce their capital expenditures and pass the savings to their customers. These networks also provide for network resiliency, as alternative paths can prevent points of failure, allowing service providers to divert traffic in case of an outage.  

In addition to the Edison Electric Institute and the Competitive Carriers Association, the Middle Mile Broadband Deployment Act is also endorsed by T-Mobile.

The Rosen-King bill creates a program within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the Department of Commerce to award grants for middle-mile infrastructure. States applying for grant funding will be required to design a broadband network program that:

·       Is capable of supporting retail broadband service, either directly or through a last-mile partner for residents and businesses within a proposed service area;

·       Enables the connection of unserved anchor institutions such as hospitals, schools, libraries, healthcare provider, institutions of higher education, and other community support organizations, including Tribal anchor institutions and;

·       Improves the redundancy and resiliency of existing middle-mile infrastructure.

As co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator King has been a strong advocate for expanding affordable broadband access as a way to increase economic opportunity in rural Maine – and has raised the issue consistently during the coronavirus pandemic. Senator King has introduced the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act of 2021 to provide states with the resources and flexibility to deploy “future-proof” networks able to meet communities’ needs in the 21st century, and the bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021, which would create new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”. He played a key role in securing the inclusion of billions of dollars in the American Rescue Plan for broadband investment – which he voted in favor of, and published an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News emphasizing the plan’s historic investment in broadband. The March edition of Senator King’s “Inside Maine” podcast focused on this historic investment during a conversation with Tilson Technologies’ Josh Broder, and Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kathryn de Wit. Senator King has also urged the Biden Administration to update federal standards for high-speed broadband to reflect modern uses, calling for updating the definition of high-speed broadband to 100 megabits per second of upload and download speed.

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