California kicks off construction of $3.8B middle mile fiber network

California began work on an ambitious fiber project which aims to deliver statewide open access middle mile connectivity by the end of 2026. The project, which was announced in 2021, is being fueled by $3.8 billion in federal and state funds.

The state’s network design calls for a total of 10,000 miles of fiber. The largest portion of the project will run through San Bernadino County, which will be home to 850 miles of fiber. Kern County (544 miles), Riverside County (535 miles) and Los Angeles County (525 miles) will also account for substantial portions of the system.

California’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is working with the state’s Department of Technology to complete the project.

During a project meeting in September, Caltrans’ Acting Assistant Deputy Director for the Middle Mile Broadband Initiative Janice Benton said preconstruction work – including environmental, permitting and design tasks – was already underway for 93% of the project’s fiber miles.

She added 114 miles of the project are expected to go into construction in 2022, with another 300 miles to come in 2023. The first leg of its work got underway this week.

Mark Monroe from the Department of Technology indicated the project will require the construction of at least 6,000 miles of new fiber. Depending on the cost to construct those miles, he said the state may need to lease some portion of the remaining 4,000 miles where existing infrastructure is available.

The state has already advertised contracts covering 900 miles of the project. And by October 14, it was planning to have 60% of the middle mile network out for construction bids. It is aiming to have 100% of the system under contract by May 2023.

Once the network is complete, ISPs will be able to tap into it to provide last mile connectivity. Those efforts will also get a funding boost. The same 2021 legislation that allocated $3.25 billion for the middle mile project (which was subsequently supplemented by another $550 million from the 2022 state budget) also set aside $2 billion for the rollout of last mile connections.