Lost Password?

RENs are ideal partners as Internet for All projects receive funding

In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced Internet for All, a federal investment of $45 billion to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet for everyone in America by the end of the decade. The initiative is being administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Internet for All has three funding pieces: the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program; the State Digital Equity Act Program; and the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program.

The middle-mile program allocates $930 million to support connections between regional fiber networks and underserved and unserved homes and businesses. A substantial portion of the funding may also be directed to supporting community anchor institutions (CAIs). Research and Education Networks (RENs) that collectively connect nearly 100,000 community anchor institutions nationwide are uniquely poised to engage with CAIs as well as community and state stakeholders to help advance their state’s broadband strategy.

In his piece 50 Ways to Love (not Leave) Your Anchor Institutions, SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen asserts that BEAD funding should support CAIs in tandem with (rather than after connecting) individual homes and businesses. Supporting these anchors may encourage more providers to participate (thus speeding up the process), and prioritizing these connections could potentially save time and money for individual states. RENs, it follows, are critical in applying funding strategically and with maximum benefit to the communities they serve.

RENs are ideal middle-mile partners in addressing the broadband needs of their local communities while collaborating with other telecommunication providers to ensure that their middle-mile strategy makes maximum use of funding (such as BEAD) for the projects that need it most. More powerful than institutions advocating for themselves, RENs are able to leverage their staff technical expertise, extensive local infrastructure knowledge, collective experience, relationships with stakeholders and legislators at state and federal levels, and a positive track record of designing scalable solutions making them an ideal partner in state broadband strategies.

Many RENs are beginning to receive or collaborate on Internet for All middle-mile projects.

North Carolina

MCNC, which supports North Carolina’s K-20 education, libraries, and other anchor institutions, received $11.2 million from NTIA for the High-speed Economies for Rural Opportunity, or HERO Project. This project will directly support improvements to broadband access and affordability in central and southeastern North Carolina. The total project is estimated at $19 million. No state tax dollars will be used for this expansion.

While no other members of the The Quilt received grants directly; CENIC, KanREN, Link Oregon, and Networkmaine are all involved as collaborators on awards in their states, respectively.


In California, CENIC and its purpose-built LLC, GoldenStateNet will be collaborating on the California Middle Mile Broadband Initiative – Spurs. This project plans to construct 680 miles of middle-mile fiber across 37 spurs that are part of the larger statewide network, bringing it within 5 miles of 288,000 unserved addresses and 14 Tribal entities, and within 1,000 feet of 1,124 anchor institutions.


The Kansas Department of Commerce and the Kansas Department of Transportation are working with private and non-profit partners like KanREN to create a 682-mile open-access network, with plans to connect multiple new internet exchange points. The project will support the needs of last-mile service providers, increase capabilities for anchor institutions, enable connections to unserved and underserved households, and increase competition in local markets, thereby creating more affordable service options.


An interesting three-state project funded through the Zayo Group, LLC will connect Prineville, Oregon, and Reno, Nevada in the high desert on the east side of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. The Zayo Oregon/NorCal/Nevada Middle Mile Project has a total project cost of $48 million and will impact three states (California, Nevada, and Oregon) with counties impacted in Deschutes, Crook, Gilliam, Morrow, Umatilla, Jefferson, Wheeler, Lake, and Klamath in Oregon; Sierra, Plumas, Lassen, and Modoc in California; and Washoe in Nevada. Link Oregon was an early supporter of this project to connect remote, chronically underserved communities in south-central Oregon, and it recently participated in a grant recognition event with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Zayo executives in Umatilla, Oregon. The purpose of this project is to develop a middle-mile network (645 miles) through rural areas with inadequate broadband services. The project includes 23 access points to provide ready access to local ISP partners. The network has been designed to include access points to serve underserved and unserved areas in all three states. In addition to the fiber route, the project will construct middle mile infrastructure in the form of 180-foot towers that can host up to four last-mile wireless ISPs that will provide fixed and mobile 5G wireless broadband.


In Maine, the Maine Connectivity Authority earned $30 million to fund 530 miles of middle-mile infrastructure and bring together key partners, including Networkmaine of the University of Maine System, to construct the Maine Online Optical Statewide Enabling Network, or MOOSE Net. MOOSE Net’s expansion of Networkmaine‘s optical network will deploy an open-access backbone network to enable last-mile providers to increase their coverage, reduce costs, and help fortify digital infrastructure to prevent outages and advance the competitiveness of rural communities. The 530-mile route crosses 131 communities, passing more than 11,000 unserved houses and local businesses. It will reach more than 200 community anchor institutions, including schools, hospitals, libraries, local government buildings, and civic centers.

Force Multiplier

The middle-mile refers to the portion of network infrastructure that connects the core backbone network to a local access network that serves end-users such as homes and businesses. In telecommunications this includes fiber-optic cables, data centers, and other network facilities that transmit data over long distances.

NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson calls middle-mile funding a “force multiplier” as it facilitates not only connectivity but job creation, innovation, and business development. The Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program will ensure the next generation of students, workers, researchers, and rural community members reap the same benefits as their urban counterparts, and RENs across the country are poised to drive these efforts home. Check out the NTIA’s Award Recipient Page for all projects within the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program. The page includes recipients, award totals, and locations for this grant program; also, the Awardee Recipient Map includes additional information.

The Quilt is pleased to support all funding recipients and looks forward to working with these states and organizations to implement accessible and affordable broadband internet throughout the United States.