When it Comes to Broadband, all Middle-Mile Fiber is Not the Same!

Our nation is making significant, multi-billion dollar investments in broadband connectivity and is poised to commit to even larger sums to close the broadband gap. Link Oregon’s consistent recommendation has been to rely to the greatest extent possible on fiber optic cable as the most resilient, future-proof medium to reach the consumer—whether that be a residence, business, or community anchor institution. The part of the network that extends between the provider and the consumer is known as the Last Mile.

Tying together the last-mile connections is the Middle Mile, the high-speed provider network infrastructure that serves as a network backbone interconnecting with data centers and Internet exchange points to move data efficiently. Middle-mile networks in the U.S. are typically developed using fiber optic cables, giving them cost-effective capacity, resilience, and long-term scalability.

In telecommunications and Internet circles, “Don’t overbuild” has been a prevailing mantra, particularly with regard to middle-mile routes. However, in its Middle-Mile Broadband Infrastructure report issued this summer, the Oregon Broadband Middle Mile Infrastructure Planning Group advanced the notion that all fiber is not the same and that the decisions around funding and deploying new middle-mile fiber are complex. This suggests that overbuilding is not inherently problematic when considering the bigger picture of network design. A critical factor when considering a new fiber build to serve rural communities, for instance, is whether they currently have sufficiently resilient fiber pathways to the Internet core. Most don’t. Communities without this level of resilience are at great risk for losing connectivity and usually at the very times they need it most: during a wildfire, flood, or a major landslide, for instance. So what is the best way to deploy fiber to mitigate risks? That depends. 

Selecting the right fiber solution and how to deploy it requires assessing a number of key factors:

  • Physical characteristics including fiber type, age, and estimated capacity (or the number of fiber pairs installed and the maximum bandwidth per fiber pair); the geology and vegetation of a particular landscape will influence whether buried or aerial fiber deployments are most suitable, for instance.
  • Design considerations are based on physical analysis as well as on an assessment of the  network purpose (express vs. local…think interstate freeway vs. local highway), spacing and location of access points, and ensuring path redundancy.
  • Resiliency factors include environmental risks—such as wildfire, geotechnical, and inundation due to tsunami or flood—as well as man-made concerns including accidents and vandalism.
  • Business considerations may include such requirements as equipment colocation space under commercially reasonable terms or the availability of unused fiber pairs for future expansion.
  • Policy considerations include government concerns about duplicative building or funding. It includes service provider concerns about competition and what it could mean if business is awarded to smaller competitors in a region.

Link Oregon’s position is that middle-mile infrastructure that is substantially capitalized by public funding should be provisioned to provide sufficient capacity for network growth and expansion over time for all communities. As such, publicly funded fiber builds should be available to all qualified providers – both public and private. 

We are also focused on the importance of timely, comprehensive broadband mapping. This is critical to understanding the location and severity of the existing service gaps across communities. It is well known that the existing FCC broadband maps do not accurately reflect what’s truly available and accessible for both rural areas as well as urban communities. Link Oregon is working closely with the Oregon Broadband Office and other public partners to develop more comprehensive data sets, ensure that the more publicly relevant data is included, and enable a robust statewide broadband mapping program to help identify the real gaps in connectivity across our state.

As an underpinning to all that we do, Link Oregon endorses comprehensive, community-based broadband grant programs that allow Oregon to develop a plan for supporting chronically underserved areas. We are dedicated to achieving these results in the most cost-effective manner to address the current challenges but also to build for future growth, so that all Oregon communities can begin to / continue to enjoy sustainable, resilient, and equitable high-speed Internet access.

As always, we invite your feedback!

— Steve