California begins 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 sate’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 of California 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.

The 10,000-mile “middle mile” network is expected to cost $3.8 billion and help connect the roughly one in five Californians do not have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet.

“We are thrilled to see construction begin on the middle-mile network,” said Secretary Tong. “Too many rural and urban areas lack adequate broadband infrastructure, forcing residents to attempt to connect via mobile hotspots and unreliable satellite service, which leaves out too many Californians.”

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was named by the Governor in August to serve as Infrastructure Advisor to the State of California, joined the event Thursday to highlight the substantial federal resources coming to the state for infrastructure investments like broadband networks.

“This broadband network is one of the most ambitious and impactful infrastructure projects in California – and we’re thrilled that construction is underway starting today,” Mayor Villaraigosa said. “With billions more in federal infrastructure dollars on the way, we’re getting ready to celebrate many more groundbreakings for innovative projects across California. This goes far beyond infrastructure, this is about building the future of our state and creating thousands of good-paying jobs along the way.”

CDT Director Liana Bailey-Crimmins said construction on the first segment of the Middle Mile network follows more than a year of planning.

“The rapid planning by the Middle Mile team as well as our local partners is coming to fruition. It’s wonderful to see the hard work paying off, to make a difference in the lives of Californians who live in unserved areas like this one.”

Liana Bailey-Crimmins, California Department of Technology Director 

Caltrans Director Tony Tavares said each of the Department’s 12 districts is working to build segments of the Middle Mile network on an ambitious timeline in the hope of capturing the maximum amount of federal funding available.

“This project provides a wonderful opportunity for us to ‘dig smart’ and highlights the benefits of coordination among state agencies and with our local partners. Caltrans is proud to partner with the Department of Technology to create a broadband Middle Mile network, providing equitable, high-speed broadband service to all Californians.”

Tony Tavares, Caltrans Director

Once the Middle Mile network is complete, local carriers will have access to the network to provide communities with direct service to homes and businesses as well as reduced-cost or free broadband internet service for those who are eligible.