Pennsylvania has been awarded the $28 million in federal stimulus grant money it requested to layer a 150 Mb/s “middle-mile” broadband network over the microwave network that is used to provide backhaul transport for the statewide land mobile radio (LMR) system.

Pennsylvania officials are hopeful that providing affordable middle-mile transport to some of the most remote areas of the state will make it economically feasible for carriers to offer broadband services to residents who otherwise would not have high-speed data access or mobile-phone coverage, in some cases. Both the LMR and broadband portions of the shared network will be managed by multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), technology that automatically reroutes traffic in case a portion of the network is unavailable. Jim Parcels, director of systems management for the Pennsylvania radio system, said leveraging MPLS — scheduled to be completely installed throughout the microwave system in June — and existing site infrastructure allowed Pennsylvania to overlay the middle-mile network at a fraction of the cost to build a greenfield system, he said.

“Fortunately, there’s very little true site-development work we have to do,” Parcels said. “There are a few locations where we have some towers that are maxed out, and we will look at either strengthening or — in a handful of cases — actually build a new, stronger structure nearby to put the additional loading in place.”

This month, meetings are being conducted to detail the implementation and operation of the network, Parcels said. Existing state resources — be it third-party contractors or in-house personnel — to handle the bandwidth-management issues associated with the new network, while the state is expected to issue an RFP to find a company to handle the commercial site-leasing aspects, he said.

“I like to think that we’re smart enough to realize that we’re not smart enough to be a professional tower-management company,” Parcels said.

Charles Brennan, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for public-safety radio, has said previously that Pennsylvania does not plan to have its middle-mile network compete against commercial carriers. The state intends to lease bandwidth only in areas that currently are not served by commercial operators, he said.