The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is funding programs that will enable growth and prosperity in regions like Eastern Kentucky.
Broadband expansion is a major priority.
The Middle Mile Grant (MMG) is one such opportunity. This program will fund up to $1 billion for middle-mile infrastructure development across the US. MMG aims to increase broadband connectivity in underserved areas by providing the necessary infrastructure to make last-mile projects possible in underserved or unserved regions.
The KentuckyWired project already set us up with a solid foundation. Government offices, universities, community colleges, state police posts, state parks, and other public institutions are connected across the Commonwealth.
But the work isn’t done yet. We can’t stop until every resident has the option to get online and access the many life-enhancing opportunities provided by the internet.
Keep reading to find out who’s eligible to pursue the MMG, how you can use it, and your requirements (and best practices) to create a standout application.
What is middle-mile broadband?
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), middle-mile broadband refers to the infrastructure that doesn’t connect to the end-user. Instead, it facilitates large quantities of traffic across short and long distances.
You can think about middle-mile as the backbone that holds up the entire internet connectivity system. Internet service providers (ISPs) use middle-mile infrastructure as their starting point for last-mile projects that get homes, businesses, and buildings online.
Look at KentuckyWired as an example. Carried out through a public-private partnership, it functions as an open access network. This means cities, partnerships, private companies, or other groups may pursue access to the lines. Macquarie Capital was the private partner that carried out the network design and build — and will keep up operations and maintenance for 30 years.
The KentuckyWired network doesn’t provide last-mile service, but what it did achieve was bringing faster, more reliable internet to every corner of the Commonwealth.
This work must continue.
If there’s an opportunity for middle-mile network expansion in your area, MMG is an opportunity for you to seize the moment.
By the way — Accelecom is Kentucky’s official wholesale provider for excess fiber available on the KentuckyWired network. They may be able to help facilitate a competitive opportunity for middle-mile expansion and resilience projects eligible for this grant.
The Middle Mile Grant
The Middle Mile Grant, or the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, is aptly named. It’ll fund projects seeking to expand middle-mile infrastructure and reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas. MMG will also consider organizations planning to increase the resilience of existing infrastructure.
BEAD vs. MMG
BEAD is another IIJA grant program that will fund many broadband expansion projects. It includes but is not limited to middle-mile infrastructure.
In contrast, the Middle Mile Grant Program holds a narrower focus exclusively on middle-mile projects.
Another key difference between BEAD and MMG is where and when you apply for these grants.
Middle Mile is allowing utilities and providers to apply directly, whereas BEAD is starting off as a states-only grant.
MMG will count on a broader range of applicants facing unique challenges. BEAD funds will have to filter through the Commonwealth first — and an application date for qualified entities will be forthcoming, likely in mid-2023.
Who’s eligible for the Middle Mile Grant?
The Middle Mile Grant program is limited to middle-mile installation, expansion, or improvement projects in unserved or underserved areas.
New FCC coverage maps coming out this fall will determine a region’s eligibility. The grant defines underserved or unserved regions as those with download speeds under 100 megabits per second, upload speeds under 20 megabits per second, or zero connectivity.
The grant invites a variety of entities to apply:
- State and local governments
- Utility companies
- Economic development agencies
- Regional planning councils (such as a fiber board)
- Other broadband installation partners
Considerations for the Middle Mile Grant
The Middle Mile Grant carries strict requirements for eligibility.
There is a 30% minimum matching requirement of cash or in-kind resources. Applicants with higher match rates will receive priority consideration.
Fiber installation projects must connect to a nearby Anchor Institution: a school, library, medical or healthcare facility, community college, or another community support organization.
Project implementation partners must follow fair labor and climate resilience measures.
Lastly, the grant requires buildout benchmarks for the project miles meeting the following minimums:
- 40% buildout by the end of the 2nd year
- 60% buildout by the end of the 3rd year
- 80 % buildout by the end of the 4th year
- 100% buildout by the end of the 5th year.
Understanding the merit review and scoring process
3 objective reviewers will score applications based on predetermined evaluation criteria. They’ll perform their reviews based on 2 broad categories:
- Project purpose and benefits, with a possible total of 60 points. This section assesses how well your project will support underserved or unserved areas, increase internet affordability, and benefit the associated community.
- Project sustainability, with a possible total of 40 points. You’ll score higher in this section if you provide a funding match above the minimum of 30%. Applicants that can prove they’re capable of long-term success beyond the award period will also receive priority.
Applications that score 80 points or higher will receive priority. Those scoring below 80 will receive lower priority.
The Middle Mile Grant will be highly competitive. Don’t make it a rush job. The deadline is just around the corner. If you start now, you’ll have a good chance of preparing a well-thought-through plan that will align with the NTIA’s requirements.
Middle Mile Grant application deadline
The Middle Mile Grant application window will be open between June 21 and September 30, 2022.
Before you apply, be sure to review key resources provided by the NTIA:
- Middle Mile Grant Portal Page
- Middle Mile Grant FAQs
- Middle Mile Grant Application Packet and Checklist
Conclusion: Access grant application resources from SOAR
Preparing a competitive grant application is challenging, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with broadband projects or working with funders.
That’s why SOAR partnered with Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. to create Getting Funded: The 2022 Manual for Writing & Winning Broadband Grants. This manual can help increase your Middle Mile Grant application score using proven best practices from industry-leading grant writers.
Don’t forget to check out all of SOAR’s helpful broadband resources focused on increasing connectivity throughout Eastern Kentucky.