Middle mile open access fiber networks are springing up all over. And although these networks share one key common principle—open access for other network operators—each implementation seems to have its own unique funding and operational model.

One of the more unique models is that of Massachusetts Broadband Institute, which announced today that it has chosen Axia NetMedia Corporation, an international broadband network operator, to serve as the operator of the 1,338-mile network the institute is building in western and north central Massachusetts.

MBI isn’t the first middle mile project to use an independent company to manage the network. But it is the first U.S. organization to choose Axia NetMedia for that role. Axia NetMedia has broadband networks in Canada, France, Singapore and Spain, including a 9,320-mile open access network in Alberta, Canada.

“This is a critical step toward extending broadband access and bridging the digital divide,” said MBI Director Judith Dumont in an announcement of the deal with Axia NetMedia. “Axia’s expertise in successfully developing broadband networks will help us deploy high-speed Internet services to residents and businesses that have been unconnected for too long.”

Another unique aspect of the MBI network–dubbed MassBroadband 123— is its funding, which included $45.4 million from a broadband stimulus award and $26.2 million in matching funds from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. MBI was created as a result of a Broadband Act adopted by Massachusetts state legislators in 2008.

MBI is a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a public economic development agency charged with spurring innovation across the state. MTC will own the MassBroadband 123 network and is responsible for its design and construction, which is targeted for completion by mid-2013.

Under the new agreement, Axia will invest in ongoing operations of MassBroadband 123 and provide fiber extensions to the network in response to market demand. “The combination of these two activities over the life of the contact is expected to be in the range of $35 to $45 million,” today’s announcement said.

Numerous other middle mile networks won part of their funding through the broadband stimulus program.  But several other new projects have been planned without any federal funding. These include Axcess Ontario, a network in upstate New York that was built without federal or state funding, and another upstate New York network currently in the planning phase that will be funded in large part by Corning, which is headquartered in the area.

At least one other network has indicated that it intends to connect to MassBroadband123. That network is one currently being planned by WiredWest Communications Cooperative, an organization created by several Massachusetts towns to build an open access fiber-to-the-home network, also in western Massachusetts.


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