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Optical/IP Networks

Indiana's Hoosier Net takes a crack at beefing up the middle-mile

Amid all the hoopla about the deployment of fiber-fueled access networks, it's sometimes easy to forget the critical importance of middle-mile networks that feed and interconnect them. Middle-mile networks take on even higher standing when trying to deliver high-quality connections to unserved or underserved parts of rural America. Without a solid middle-mile, the last-mile network will suffer.

A consortium of telco cooperatives and Rural Electric Membership Cooperatives (REMCs) are looking to remedy that situation in Indiana with Hoosier Net, a newly formed entity that aims to develop (and build, where necessary) a statewide middle-mile network. Accord Telecommunications Collaborative, a group of 21 Rural Electric Membership Cooperatives (REMCs) and telephone cooperatives, recently announced an investment in Hoosier Net.

Drawing a bead on BEAD

Hoosier Net is taking form as federal and state authorities prepare to mete out billions of dollars in broadband grants under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act's Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. The group came together after another statewide network in Indiana, called the Intelligence Fiber Network, was sold to Zayo in June 2021.

That became an issue as "ISPs in Indiana lost control of their own destiny," Rob Shema, CEO of Hoosier Net, Independents Fiber Network in Ohio and Com Net Inc. (CNI), said on the Light Reading podcast. CNI, a company that provides backend services to ISPs, is also an owner of Hoosier Net and currently serves as the organization's managing partner.

'One throat to choke'

"If [our] network has an outage, you'd better believe I have skin in the game, because at the end of the day, I'm owned by these companies. It's my job to get that Internet connection back up as quickly and as efficiently as possible," Shema said. "They want one throat to choke, and that throat's mine."

Shema estimates that the current plan for Hoosier Net will cover about 90% of Indiana, enabling a cohesive unit that can be presented to the NTIA as a way to provide backbone connectivity for several ISPs in the state. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is tasked with implementing the $42.5 billion in BEAD funding and $1 billion tagged for middle-mile infrastructure funding.

Beefing up the middle-mile is going to be an "intricate part" of bringing uncongested, high-quality broadband to rural areas, Shema said. "We're building a network that [enables the] same interconnectivity that you have in the city with these rural ISPs," he added.

Though the combination of incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) and REMCs on such a project is a rarity, Shema believes it could spark interest in forging similar types of joint projects in other states.

Here's a snapshot of topics covered in this podcast:

  • An overview of Hoosier Net, including how it started (2:10)
  • Why it's important that ILECs and REMCs are coming together on the project (6:50)
  • Why the middle-mile is important, particularly in rural areas (8:30)
  • An update and expected timeline on the Hoosier Net project (16:00)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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