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Design, Procurement Moving Forward on Middle-Mile Network

Work is proceeding on several fronts to fully plan and sequence projects and ensure supplies are ready, officials said during the monthly meeting of the Middle-Mile Advisory Committee.

Closeup of yellow broadband cables with blue plugs plugged into a board.
Design and development work is now underway on the state’s middle-mile broadband network, funded in large part with an unprecedented windfall of federal monies.

Broadband leaders affirmed Friday at the monthly meeting of the Middle-Mile Advisory Committee that considerable progress is expected this spring and a procurement is also being written. Among the takeaways:

  • GoldenStateNet (GSN), the project’s third-party administrator (TPA), has provided CDT an “initial draft of its project sequencing methodology,” Mark Monroe, deputy director of the Middle-Mile Broadband Initiative, said during the virtual meeting. Combined with the California Public Utilities Commission’s data on unserved and underserved communities and GSN’s system design, it will be “useful to sequence their many construction components of the broader statewide project ... .” GSN’s system-level design will also help CDT determine where to build and where to lease; and will “identify a network of reference design for the physical and electronic components in the system.” The work will be helpful for bringing site locations and the need for materials such as conduit, cables, towers, poles and repeaters into focus. The plan for this design, Monroe said, is to present cost estimates for several types of outside physical cabling, including specifications, design parameters, and the identification of segments GSN would recommend constructing.
    “Using the CPUC data and system expertise, they’ll be able to sequence the list of projects to be constructed. We expect this later this spring and as the design is completed we plan to engage members and stakeholder groups to help explain .... ,” Monroe said, adding: “Associated with the spring timeframe, we anticipate announcing the ... remaining list of projects statewide as well.”
  • Anticipating the need for future supplies like fiber and conduit, officials are developing a Request for Proposals for a Master Purchase Agreement “with which we plan to procure at least half of the anticipated materials that we will need for construction and development of California’s Middle-Mile Network,” Monroe said, indicating, “this will include higher-risk materials such as fiber, cable and conduits and hand-holds” but will also include needs such as electronics. The RFP will also include the option to expand in the future once system-level design wraps and leaders know more about exactly what’s needed. This, Monroe said, should speed up future procurements and eliminate the need for multiple RFPs once the system’s initial material needs are identified. Officials also intend to pursue “options for the manufacturers and suppliers to also provide some of the storage,” he said, with the goal of minimizing the state’s “storage needs and the associated costs and logistics.”
  • GSN is nearly ready to finalize “route locations” for the 18 projects it announced last year, Tony Naughtin, its president and chief operating officer, told attendees. Most, he said, “will involve newly built fiber routes on (California Department of Transportation) Caltrans rights-of-way.” The TPA, Naughtin added, has made “quite a bit of progress in the last month” negotiating for dark fiber, procured for several locations. Timely completion of those agreements should enable development and engineering to “move forward as quickly as possible,” he said. He noted that in determining the locations of regional exchange points, which are essentially extensions to bring the network closer to last-mile providers, officials have worked to keep interactions local so that traffic isn’t routed through distant exchanges.
  • Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, pointed out he represented a Northern California district with one of the lowest rates of broadband adoption in the state and asked if officials could be more specific on the spring timeframe. Monroe said the “approach” is to do a full-system design early on so that “we ... know where we want to build and where we want to lease.
    “And then that’s going to determine not where we provide the service but how we provide the service,” Monroe said, indicating that it’s possible that in the April-May-June timeframe additional projects in this area may be released.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.