Tech Insights

$30M in Funding Focused on Middle-Mile Infrastructure and Grid Reliability

July 18, 2023 by Claire Turvill

In support of the ongoing transition to a renewable grid, ComEd and Baltimore Gas and Electric have received a total of $30 million in federal grants to support grid reliability.

In both Chicago and Baltimore, utility companies have received federal funding through the Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, reinforced by the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), to support infrastructure investment in grid reliability. Middle-mile infrastructure plays a crucial role in transmitting substantial volumes of data across extensive distances. 


Grid infrastructure

Grid infrastructure. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


In line with the IIJA, the federal government allocated around $1 billion to reduce expenses associated with connecting communities lacking adequate access by expanding middle-mile broadband infrastructure. This funding expands access to the Internet and digital services in historically unserved communities while bolstering the grid for a stronger transition to renewable energy. 


$14.5M for Grid Reliability

ComEd secured a $14.5 million federal infrastructure grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The grant aims to enhance grid reliability and broadband connectivity in select areas of Chicago.

Investor-owned utilities played a significant role in the Middle Mile Grant.

ComEd emphasized the importance of advanced communications networks in enhancing the reliability and resilience of the electric grid, particularly as distributed energy resources like solar and battery storage become more integrated. The collaboration between community stakeholders to secure the funding ensured the necessary investments in advanced communications networks. It brought the added benefit of improving high-speed broadband access on Chicago's west and south sides, a crucial accomplishment mirrored by utilities nationwide.

In 2021, approximately 200,000 households in Chicago were still without broadband access. ComEd had planned to install over 400 miles of fiber optic cable within the city over the next five years to enhance the evolving grid and upgrade its advanced communication network. However, with the help of this grant, ComEd will extend the reach of new middle-mile infrastructure to 24 underserved communities, benefiting up to 440,000 households in need.

ComEd has been a long-term investor in and user of fiber optic infrastructure as a crucial component of its advanced communications network. Now, it plans to provide last-mile service providers affordable access to dark fiber capacity along its middle-mile network. This initiative will substantially reduce costs for third-party internet service providers, enabling wider broadband deployment to underserved areas.

In an interconnected world, closing the digital divide is a matter of equality and a fundamental requirement for progress and empowerment. It ensures everyone can access knowledge, opportunities, and social inclusion, leaving no one behind.


$15.4M for BGE’s Middle Mile Infrastructure 

Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) has been awarded a federal grant of $15.4 million for a middle-mile fiber infrastructure project aimed at improving broadband connectivity and strengthening electric grid reliability through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The $15.4 million grant, combined with a 50.1 percent funding match from BGE, will result in a total investment of $30.8 million over the next four years. 

This investment will be utilized to construct nearly 70 route-miles of underground middle-mile fiber infrastructure. BGE has long-standing expertise in building, maintaining, and operating the existing fiber communications network, positioning the company as an ideal partner for the grant program's objectives.

The significance of high-speed internet access for the well-being and prosperity of communities is ensuring reliability, affordability, and accessibility for all. This project is a mutually beneficial opportunity to enhance grid reliability and resilience while addressing the digital divide by expanding broadband investments to underserved areas.

BGE intends to connect 20 electric substations and the underground fiber backbone. The project's route encompasses various municipalities, including Laurel, Elkridge, Columbia, Bowie, Glen Burnie, Linthicum, Brooklyn Park, and other communities within BGE's service area. 


High-power electricity poles in urban areas connected to the smart grid

High-power electricity poles in urban areas connected to the smart grid. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


Numerous institutions are set to benefit from this initiative, including 20 schools, two libraries, three healthcare providers, two higher education institutions, nine community centers, one police station, one fire station, and 12 other establishments. Notably, Bowie State University, a Historically Black College and University, is among the institutions expected to experience improved broadband service upon the project's completion in 2027.


Why Middle-Mile Infrastructure Matters

Middle-mile infrastructure is critical in ensuring reliable and high-speed internet access by bridging the gap between data storage locations and end-users. It forms the backbone of connectivity that enables the seamless transfer of information across vast distances, fostering community engagement, promoting healthy competition, facilitating learning, and enhancing overall well-being.

As renewable energy sources like solar and wind power become more prevalent, having preexisting investments into middle-mile infrastructure will ensure an efficient exchange of data and signals between renewable energy generation facilities, energy storage systems, and grid operators. This seamless communication enables effective coordination, grid balancing, and stability, ensuring reliable integration of renewable energy into the power grid.

The federal investments are laying a solid foundation for an equitable and straightforward transition to a renewable energy-powered grid.