Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program (MMGP)

Overview | Middle Mile Routes | Call To Action | Letters of Support | FAQs | Contact/Questions

Overview

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC), in partnership with DQE Communications, is applying to the Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program (MMGP) to establish and enhance fiber-based infrastructure across the 10-county southwestern Pennsylvania region. SPC is the federally-designated metropolitan planning organization (MPO) responsible for the region’s transportation planning process, as well as the Local Development District and Economic Development District, that establishes regional economic development priorities and provides a wide range of technical services to the region.

In 2022, SPC developed A Connectivity Roadmap for Southwestern Pennsylvania, a strategic regional plan to identify and guide the deployment of high-speed connectivity programs and projects throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. The Connectivity Roadmap provides a guide to building a more comprehensive and equitable broadband network that will help connect people to opportunities, jobs, and education; attract new and retain current businesses; and ultimately enable southwestern Pennsylvania to be better-positioned in securing connectivity funding for potential projects and programs.

Internet fiber-optic networks, also called “middle-mile” networks, act as a superhighway that allows internet traffic to quickly travel across far distances. The exits on the highway are local networks that consumers interact with, like home WiFi or business Internet—these are what we call “last-mile” services and are often offered by other Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The MMGP focuses on the highway, not the driveway!

Historically, middle mile fiber networks are built, owned, and operated by ISPs, telecom companies, and electric utility entities who then lease fiber to last-mile providers/ISPs. Therefore, while middle mile construction does not immediately impact consumer concerns associated with last-mile services, such as plan pricing, speeds, or a pesky router, without extensive middle mile network enhancements, it becomes difficult and costly to improve current network capacity or to establish reliable networks in underserved and unserved communities. That’s why SPC saw the Middle Mile Grant Program (MMGP) as the natural next step for improving high-speed broadband in Southwest PA.

Where are the proposed Middle Mile Routes located?

View our interactive map showing the 12 proposed Middle Mile routes and download a Quick Start Guide PDF for tips on using the interactive map. Our proposal includes the construction of nearly 170 new miles of fiber within the close proximity of 15,950 homes and 117 community organizations to reach over 37,000 people across southwestern Pennsylvania.

Middle Mile Route Locations

Click to view our interactive map!

Quick Start Guide

Click to download a Quick Start Guide PDF

We need your help and support: A Call To Action for our Region.

SPC is applying to the Middle Mile Grant Program because, as the convener for southwestern Pennsylvania, we are representatives of the region’s collective goals. From our work on the Connectivity Roadmap, we heard of the difficulties and concerns of residents and came to understand that high-speed internet is the vehicle for economic and societal stability and growth of our region. Because SPC does not seek to own or operate any internet-based infrastructure deployments, we can be objective advocates for broadband improvements without direct industry influence. In this convener role, SPC worked with consultant Michael Baker International to identify new Middle Mile fiber routes that: prioritize unserved and underserved areas, are within close proximity to Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs), and were selected based on the requirements and selection criteria of the MMGP to ensure that new routes will serve areas with the most need, rather than overbuilding to well-served areas.


According to the NTIA, the term “Community Anchor Institutions” means a school, library, medical or healthcare provider, community college or other institution of higher education, or other community support organization or entity. Because this work is about building the internet highway, not the exits, these groups are critical stakeholders that represent community broadband needs. If you have received a request for a letter of support for SPC’s MMGP application, that means your CAI, residence, or place of business is located near a middle mile route that we are proposing. Your support and engagement in this project, through written and electronic correspondence, is crucial to our success in obtaining an award.


Please use the sample letters of support below and send them back to us at connected@spcregion.org or the mailing address at the bottom of this page. Make sure to include your own contact information and please describe how reliable and affordable high-speed internet would improve your community, its residents, businesses and more. Thank you for your support!

FAQs

MMGP Overview

Middle mile infrastructure means any broadband infrastructure that does not connect directly to an end-user location, including an anchor institution; and includes— (i) leased dark fiber, interoffice transport, backhaul, carrier-neutral internet exchange facilities, carrier-neutral submarine cable landing stations, undersea cables, transport connectivity to data centers, special access transport, and other similar services; and (ii) wired or private wireless broadband infrastructure, including microwave capacity, radio tower access, and other services or infrastructure for a private wireless broadband network, such as towers, fiber, and microwave links (NOFO Section I.B.9).
Middle mile infrastructure does not reach the end user’s location, but typically aggregates large quantities of traffic for carriage between points that can be relatively close together or far apart. Middle mile infrastructure might carry traffic via undersea cable to remote locations such as Hawaii or American territories and possessions elsewhere in the Pacific, may “backhaul” wireless traffic from an antenna mounted on a tower to the provider’s wired network, may bring the internet to previously unserved Tribal or Native lands, or may simply connect neighboring towns. Middle mile connections are crucial to broadband connectivity (NOFO Section I.A).
Middle mile services might be offered by a wide range of entities, from traditional Internet Service Providers, to large technology companies that do not offer retail broadband at all, or electric utilities that increasingly recognize their capability to transform the communications market (NOFO Section I.A).
The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program (Middle Mile Grant Program) provides federal funding for grants on a technology-neutral, competitive basis to eligible entities for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure (NOFO Section I).
Too many Americans are cut off from the opportunities that high-speed internet makes possible. Funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and administered by the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Middle Mile Grant Program is a program to expand middle mile infrastructure and reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas. Middle mile infrastructure broadly refers to the mid-section of Internet infrastructure that carries large amounts of data at high speeds over long distances. This program will also increase the resilience of internet infrastructure (NOFO Section I.A).
The term “anchor institution” means a school, library, medical or healthcare provider, community college or other institution of higher education, or other community support organization or entity.
The term “underserved,” with respect to an area, means an area— (A) that is designated as a Tribally underserved area through the process set forth in Section III.G.2 of the Middle Mile Grant Program NOFO; or (B) that— (i) is of a standard size not larger than a census block, as established by the Commission; (ii) is not an unserved area; and (iii) as determined in accordance with the FCC fixed broadband map, does not have access to broadband service with— (I) except as provided in (II) — (aa) a download speed of not less than 100 megabits per second; and (bb) an upload speed of not less than 20 megabits per second; or (II) minimum download and upload speeds established as benchmarks by the Commission for purposes of the Act after the date of enactment of the Act, if those minimum speeds are higher than the minimum speeds required under (I). The term “unserved,” with respect to an area, means an area— (A) that is designated as a Tribally underserved area through the process set forth in Section III.G.2 of Middle Mile Grant Program NOFO; or (B) that— (i) is of a standard size not larger than a census block, as established by the Commission; and (ii) as determined in accordance with the FCC fixed broadband map, does not have access to broadband service with— (I) except as provided in (II)— (aa) a download speed of not less than 25 megabits per second; and (bb) an upload speed of not less than 3 megabits per second; or (II) minimum download and upload speeds established as benchmarks by the Commission for purposes of this Act after the date of enactment of this Act, if those minimum speeds are higher than the minimum speeds required under (I).
“Open access” refers to an arrangement in which the Eligible Entity offers nondiscriminatory access to and use of its network on a wholesale basis to other providers seeking to provide middle mile carriage using the eligible entity’s funded network at just and reasonable wholesale rates. While Middle Mile Grant program applicants are not required to offer open access, their proposals may earn up to 10 points (out of 100) during Merit Review if they do commit to offering open access.

Eligibility and Program Details

A State, political subdivision of a State, Tribal government, technology company, electric utility, utility cooperative, public utility district, telecommunications company, telecommunications cooperative, nonprofit foundation, nonprofit corporation, nonprofit institution, nonprofit association, regional planning council, Native entity, or economic development authority; or a partnership of two or more entities described above can apply for funding under the Middle Mile Grant Program as an eligible entity (NOFO Section I.B.9). The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission is a regional planning council.
  • Description of how applicant will use a highly trained workforce capable of carrying out Middle Mile Grant Program work in a manner that is safe and effective;
  • Description of the applicant’s participation in partnerships that provide skills-based training and wrap-around services to support workers;
  • Description of how the applicant will ensure job opportunities created by broadband funding programs are available to a diverse pool of workers; and
  • Description of other workforce development activities (e.g., Registered Apprenticeships, hiring of local workers, etc.) (NOFO Section III.H).
Applicants must demonstrate that they sufficiently account for current and future weather- and climate-related risks, including:
  • Identifying geographic areas for an initial hazard screening and time scales for such screenings;
  • Identifying the most important weather and climate hazards in these areas;
  • Characterizing risks to new middle mile infrastructure for 20 years following deployment;
  • Identifying how the proposed plan will avoid or mitigate the risks identified; and
  • Detailing the applicant’s plans for periodically repeating this process over the life of the project (NOFO Section III.K).
Each applicant seeking an award to build middle mile infrastructure using fiber-optic technology must certify that the proposed project, upon completion, will include direct interconnection facilities that will facilitate the provision of broadband service, at speeds not less than 1 Gigabit per second for downloads and 1 Gigabit per second for uploads to Anchor Institutions located within 1,000 feet of the middle mile infrastructure.

Uses of Funding

NTIA will make up to $980M available for federal assistance under the Middle Mile Grant Program. NTIA retains 2% of the appropriated funds to support the administration of the grant program, from pre-award, through application review, and post award. NTIA expects to make awards under this program within $5M to $100M per grant. This range is not a required minimum or maximum, but eligible entities requesting amounts for projects outside of this range must provide a reasonable explanation for the variance in their project size (NOFO Section II.A and II.C).
Grants can be used for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle mile infrastructure. Examples of eligible uses of funds include the construction, improvement, and/or acquisition of facilities and telecommunications equipment, engineering design, permitting and work related to environmental, historical and cultural reviews, personnel costs, including salaries and fringe benefits for staff and consultants (e.g., project managers, subject matter experts, financial analysts, accountants, attorneys), select pre-application expenses <$50,000 incurred after NOFO publication and before to grant award, and other costs necessary to programmatic activities, excluding ineligible costs. This list is not exhaustive (NOFO Section IV.I.1).
The program's period of performance ends five years after funds are made available with a potential 1-year extension if the applicant certifies that:
  • The eligible entity has a plan for use of the grant funds;
  • The project to build out middle mile infrastructure is underway; or
  • Extenuating circumstances require an extension of time to allow completion of the project to build out middle mile infrastructure.
  • Requests for extensions will be granted at the sole discretion of the Assistant Secretary (NOFO Section II.B).
The eligible entity must complete 40% of project miles by the end of the 2nd year after the award date, 60% of project miles by the end of the 3rd year after the award date, 80% of project miles by the end of the fourth year after the award date, and 100% of project miles by the end of the fifth year after the award date. If an extension for the period of performance is granted, the Assistant Secretary will modify any milestones as necessary (NOFO Section III.D).
Funding can be used for two broad purposes: one, to facilitate deployment of high-speed broadband to unserved or underserved areas, or two, to improve affordability in already-served markets (NOFO Section I.A, IV.B.2.a).

Contact Information and Questions

connected@spcregion.org
Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission
Two Chatham Center, Suite 500
Attn: MMGP
112 Washington Place | Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Fax: (412) 391-9160