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Middle-Mile Broadband Projects Span State

The state has announced 18 broadband projects across California aimed at activating an “open-access middle-mile network” – and reflecting billions in federal funding.

Closeup of a pile of yellow broadband cables with blue caps.
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In an early step toward potential future IT procurements, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state has selected more than a dozen projects through which it intends to supply high-speed Internet to residents throughout California.

Officials have chosen 18 projects around the state, Newsom’s office said, “to begin work on an open-access middle-mile network that will provide missing infrastructure paths to bring broadband to all our communities.” The governor and lawmakers reached accord earlier this year on how to spend a historic $6 billion on broadband infrastructure beginning with the current one. Of the $6 billion, there’s nearly $4.4 billion appropriated in FY 2021‑22 – and $3.25 billion overall for middle-mile. Among the takeaways:

  • The 18 projects selected span the state from the central coast to the Coachella Valley – including, the state said, Los Angeles and south Los Angeles, Oakland, the Riverside/San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Siskiyou areas; west Fresno and counties including Calaveras, Kern, Lake, Orange and San Bernardino. More specifically, in and around L.A., work will target areas including South Gate, Lynwood, Paramount, Bellflower, Compton and Lakewood. Around Riverside and San Diego, it will include the Cahuilla Reservation and the Julian and Santee areas. And in Oakland, improvements will focus on the Oakland Flats neighborhoods. Here’s more on project details. Officials prioritized unserved or underserved areas of the state in making their choices – with those terms referring to areas with households “that do not reliably have download speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload of at least 3 Mbps,” the governor’s office said.
  • The precise timing of possible procurements isn’t entirely clear. However, in a statement, California Department of Technology (CDT) Director and state Chief Information Officer Amy Tong said: “Through a historic partnership between our governor, the Legislature, state agencies and a third-party administrator, we are taking immediate action to improve connectivity for Californians in the northern, central and southern parts of the state.” She discussed the work in a blog post Friday, “First Steps and Gratitude,” and said: “You don’t have to be state CIO to understand how technology touches every aspect of life, so much so that a strong Internet connection has become a ‘need to have’ not a ‘nice to have.’” Officials expect to identify more project locations by the end of the year, she added, and “begin implementation on the first 18 by spring of 2022.”
  • The city of Oakland said via news release that work in its vicinity will center on deploying “middle-mile fiber” on parts of Interstate 880, State Route 185 (International Boulevard), I-980, and I-580. “We hope Oakland can be a proof point for other California cities, demonstrating the critical need and opportunity for investment in urban areas,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement. Tong, who also chairs the Middle-Mile Advisory Committee, praised the city in a statement for “building a broad coalition of partners, creating innovative last-mile pilots, and prioritizing digital inclusion work,” adding: “We’re excited about Oakland being a model to learn from and inform projects in cities across the state to meet the goals of SB 156 and bridge the digital divide.” The initiative’s individual projects “also act as test cases as we prepare to expand the middle mile far beyond this initial reach,” Tong said Friday.
  • State entities charged with carrying out the so-called “middle-mile initiative” include CDT, the lead entity; the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), according to the governor’s news release Wednesday. The state chose GoldenStateNet as third-party administrator (TPA) to handle “development, acquisition, construction, maintenance and operation of the statewide open-access middle-mile broadband network” and work with stakeholder groups. In terms of entity roles, CPUC has been “prioritizing state highway rights of way and geographically diverse (groups) of projects in rural and urban areas of the state,” CDT said, indicating it will continue to build and develop the statewide open-access middle-mile broadband network in collaboration with the TPA and Caltrans as CPUC identifies additional locations for middle-mile build-out.
  • In an email, CDT said it will oversee procurement contracts related to the Middle Mile Initiative. Projects, the department said, “will be implemented on a varying schedule with pre-construction work such as permitting, environmental and design beginning immediately.” Caltrans, CDT told Techwire, will “explore alternative contracting methods such as design-build and job order contracting which can lead to expediting construction, especially with those being done concurrently with other existing Caltrans projects.” CDT and the Office of Broadband and Digital Literacy will oversee contract acquisition and management for the network’s development, build, maintenance and operation, the former affirmed. CDT “will continue to guide and oversee policy and work with appropriate entities to procure essential technologies and services as needs arise for these initial 18 projects,” the department told Techwire, indicating that will be the case for future projects as well.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.