FierceTelecom Leaders: Monisha Merchant, director of product management, Level 3

Level 3 may be known as one of the class of the late 1990s long-haul wholesale providers that built a long-haul optical network that crisscrossed the U.S. for other carriers. As it built out its long-haul fiber network, Level 3 passed through many rural towns where it placed network regeneration sites simply to amplify the signal. But with the advent of the Obama administration's Broadband Stimulus Program, Level 3 believes it can leverage those same regeneration sites to become a ‘middle mile' provider to serve a host of rural wireless, cable and ILEC service providers. To make that ‘middle mile' dream a reality, the service provider submitted its own application for broadband stimulus funding this summer. We recently caught up with Monisha Merchant, director of product management, Level 3 Communications, to talk about the middle mile concept and her views on what effect the broadband stimulus program will have on the U.S. broadband market.

FierceTelecom: Level 3 submitted an application for the Obama administration's broadband act to basically provide what is referred to as ‘middle mile' connectivity to other rural service providers that reside along the route of your long-haul network. Can you talk a bit about your approach and what you hope to bring to other independent operators?

Merchant:  As you are aware, the Level 3 network cuts across the entire country and our fiber passes through a lot of these rural areas. We like to talk about the farmer on the farm and the Internet traffic is passing by them. When we think through the impact of where our network is placed and the ability to make an impact overall in expanding broadband across the country, Level 3 is best positioned in the middle mile.

The way we define the middle mile is from the Level 3 gateway to our Level 3 access points. These are intermediary sites, or what you might know as in-line amplifiers or 'huts,' are where we amplify the signal today. You can imagine between Denver and Kansas City on the Level 3 fiber route, we go through certain towns where we don't add and drop traffic, but act as more of an express route. What we're proposing from a middle mile concept is allowing traffic to come on and off the Level 3 network through these intermediary access points. This means adding more on ramps on to this express route between Denver and Kansas City, for example.

FierceTelecom: As we understand it, Level 3 is requesting $15 million from the government with a matching $5 million?

Merchant: The options through the broadband stimulus program were a grant with 20 percent matching funds. Level 3 is putting up 25 percent and requesting for the remainder in terms of a grant.

FierceTelecom: What Level 3 is building is in effect an onramp for rural carriers to the long-distance networks and the Internet?

Merchant: Exactly. From there, Level 3 becomes a neutral provider allowing connections to any kind of technology. If there are rural cable companies, rural wireless companies and rural carriers, they can connect into these access points and have access to the entire suite of Level 3 broadband services. This includes everything from our Content Delivery Network (CDN), our high speed Internet access products and also even our Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). As commerce continues to grow and enterprises are demanding more services, these guys can connect to the Level 3 network and have access to our entire suite of services.

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