Charter, Uniti, local ISPs win in Alabama’s $188M middle mile funding round

Broadband dollars continue to flow, and Alabama is the latest state to dish out grants. It awarded this week $188 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to 12 ISPs, each of whom will undertake middle mile projects.

The middle mile, infrastructure that provides last mile connectivity to typically underserved areas, has been a key focus in addressing the digital divide. Grantees will collectively install more than 4,000 miles of fiber across Alabama.

Alabama’s funding round is particularly focused on connecting anchor institutions, which include schools, hospitals and public safety buildings. Grant-funded projects will cover more than 790 anchor institutions, stated a press release.

The 12 grant winners were primarily local providers, with Alabama Fiber Network securing the most funding at $129 million. The company is a coalition of eight rural electric cooperatives and plans to install nearly 1,776 miles of fiber across 21 counties. It aims to connect 438 anchor institutions.

There were a couple of big names on the list. Charter won a $7.3 million grant to construct a 167-mile network in southeastern Houston County, covering eight anchor institutions. Uniti, a wholesale fiber provider, is using $4.2 million to build a middle mile network in Butler, Lowndes and Montgomery counties.

“These middle-mile projects will be extremely beneficial to our anchor institutions,” said Alabama Governor Kay Ivey in a statement. “And it puts us in a desirable situation where the ‘last mile’ projects that will supply broadband service to businesses and households are more economical and attainable.”

The U.S. government last year dished out $1 billion to support middle mile buildouts, as part of the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program. A total of 36 entities across 40 states and territories received funding.

But some middle mile players aren’t sure if $1 billion is enough. Brian Mefford, VETRO’s VP of broadband strategy, told Fierce last June states could help reel in additional funds for middle mile projects, particularly as they start implementing the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

“We’re not done with seeing the NTIA invest in or encourage states to invest in middle mile,” said Mefford.