California hands Lumen $400M for middle mile network build

The California Department of Technology (CDT) will pay Lumen Technologies $400 million to build out 1,900 miles of network infrastructure as part of the state’s Middle Mile Broadband Initiative.

The Lumen award represents two of 11 total leases, joint-build or purchase agreements from the CDT with several companies that will contribute to the initiative’s open access middle-mile network. Open access networks, which are deployed by one company and leased to multiple ISPs, are starting to gain traction in the U.S.

The middle mile is the portion of networks that connects the last mile (connection to homes or businesses) with the network backbone (transmission lines linking global internet networks).

Lumen will be pulling new 288 count fiber into existing conduit on behalf of the state for the entire 1,900 miles. This will bring open-access middle mile connectivity by Lumen to “hundreds of California communities by the end of 2026,” according to a Lumen statement.

The Middle Mile Broadband Initiative budget is currently set at $3.87 billion, most of which will come from the American Rescue Plan and from California State Government funds. That money will go toward lighting dark fiber, as well as adding fiber and other materials to existing infrastructure to “meet the state’s standards,” said CDT Information Officer Bob Andosca.

Lumen’s CDT award presents a 20-year lease with an option for the state to own 1,186 miles of the assets, and to extend the state’s lease of the remaining 710 miles for up to another 20 years after the initial lease expires, Andosca told Fierce Telecom.

The state will maintain oversight on all network assets.

So far, $1.8 billion has been expensed toward leases, joint builds, construction and purchases for the Middle Mile Broadband Initiative. Andosca disclosed that the initiative’s current contracts are with Arcadian, Hoopa Valley Public Utilities District, SiskiyouTel, Zayo, Lumen, CVIN, Transpacific Network (TPN), Boldyn, Vero and California Broadband Cooperative, Inc.

“The state hopes to start lighting dark fiber around the middle of 2025,” said Andosca, with new Caltrans construction expected to begin in November and to “increasingly ramp up throughout 2024.”

The CDT has a map available with the locations of each provider here.

According to the CDT, the initial middle-mile locations were identified to connect unserved communities – those that do not have internet access– through a “range of programs and initiatives,” including billions in last-mile funding implemented by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).