By Gil Santaliz, CEO of NJFX

Streaming videos, working from home, social media networks and business demands depend upon a reliable telecommunications infrastructure. Whenever that network fails a test, such as it did during Superstorm Sandy or the 9-11 attacks, there is a great deal of talk among public officials and executives about the need for building in resilience to the network of cables and wireless towers that support telecommunications traffic.

However, a sense of collective amnesia takes hold and people go about their business a few months after a crisis. A new federal grant program from the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) is aimed at improving the reliability of telecommunications networks that might be able to address a digital divide by improving access to underserved areas.

Some rural regions have poor access to broadband services, widening the gap of economic and educational opportunities between those with better cable and wireless networks and those who do not.  We also see some vulnerabilities to even the largest telecommunications networks.

We have seen during 9-11 and Superstorm Sandy where networks were down for days as telecommunications traffic stalled when lower Manhattan struggled during emergencies. Unfortunately, much of the legacy infrastructure is in buildings owned by real estate landlords that are unaware of the crucial role their facilities play, giving a short shrift to security or providing the necessary technical support for networks by having generators and cooling facilities that are needed to protect telecommunications equipment.

This is becoming more of an important issue as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many businesses have established a hybrid work environment. Networks need to have greater capacity and redundancy to make them more reliable for remote workers. Speed and capacity are improving, but more needs to be done. This demands more investment in what is known as the “middle mile”.

The middle mile comes in the form of colocation facilities and expanded fiberoptic cable networks that are now needing upgrades since the initial wave of installation as the Internet first became a force in commerce more than 20 years ago. Fortunately, new fiber carries 10 times the traffic of the old fiber. In the wireless realm, 5G networks are increasingly being deployed and they have the equivalence of offering wi-fi levels of speed and capacity.

Virtual reality and the Internet of Things (IoT) will place new demands on the middle mile, as well as the “last mile” of telecommunications networks that lead to homes and businesses.

Adding redundancy in telecommunications networks and building out the middle mile takes on a greater priority. Currently there are pain points in networks in major cities.  Since the Internet has been described as an “information superhighway,” an accident can leave traffic at a standstill with dropped calls, disrupted social media, and stalled commerce.    

The NTIA’s grant program could help bridge the digital divide, particularly in rural areas. It should also take every step to help expand the networks and also help build some additional offramps to help sustain Internet traffic when there is a problem.

Learn more about NTIA Enabling the Middle Mile Infrastructure Program.

Learn more about Invensting in the Middle Mile Infrastructure.