Between Monday, September 16th through Thursday, September 19th, Merit staff and representatives from ASR Analytics traveled to locations along the REACH-3MC Round I network route to gather information and testimonials for a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) report. The following contains some highlights of the visits with Merit Members.
Merit staff traveled to Adrian College to meet with Brad Maggard to discuss the college's bandwidth and network usage over the years and how it has changed because of the REACH-3MC network. Brad said the College has regularly maxed out the capacity of their network connection over the past 12 years. After the REACH-3MC network was completed, their available network bandwidth increased from 90 megabits-per-second (Mbps) to 350 Mbps, with the ability to go up to 1 gigabit-per-second.
Adrian College's residence halls feature both wired and wireless connections for students. Academic buildings feature older infrastructure, which they hope to improve over time as they renovate things.
Adrian College has been a Merit Member for a long time, and the college serves as a backbone node for Merit's network, with a 10 gigabit connection that connects the campus to Merit's fiber-optic backbone network.
City of Hillsdale
Merit staff met with Mary Wolfram from the City of Hillsdale to discuss economic development and other topics related to the community. Merit has four fiber-optic routes out of Hillsdale, one going west to Chicago, one going east to Monroe, one north to Jackson, and one south to OARNet, the Ohio Research and Education Network.
Hillsdale is centrally located in Southern Michigan, and their goal is to locate a data center in the community. In the last few months, they had discussions with a company about locating a data center in Hillsdale, but the opportunity fell through.
The community has established a business incubator, and two small companies have set up shop in the location. Hillsdale has also created a technology park, which can be served by the REACH-3MC fiber owned by the sub-recipients on the project.
Lake Michigan College
Merit staff met with Randy Melton and Scott Pratt from Lake Michigan College.
The college has four campuses and serves about 5,000 students. Lake Michigan College is the largest provider of direct credit classes for high school students in the state.
To lower the cost of its network connection, the college had been sharing infrastructure with Western Michigan University. The new REACH-3MC fiber helped to lower the cost of network connectivity, and Merit has provided a connection to the M-TEC campus. The school has benefitted from the Merit On-Net/Off-Net Service in connecting its campuses, which decreased the cost of network transmissions between the connected campuses.
Manistee County Sheriff
Merit staff met with James Espvik and Gordon McLellan. Manistee County's central dispatch serves the tribal police, city police, sheriff's department, state police, 12 fire departments, and two 911 service centers. Through mutual aid agreements, it also assists Mason County, Wexford County, Lake County, Grand Traverse County, and Benzie County.
Central dispatch gets about 80,000 calls a year. Unlike some other dispatch centers, they don't have call takers and dispatchers; instead they have dispatchers who take the calls and then dispatch the appropriate resources. Through an agreement with Benzie County, they can share their excess call volume to Benzie County dispatchers.
The REACH-3MC network connection is used to connect work stations to the Internet and to connect the sheriff's data center, the county data center, and the county courthouse. The REACH-3MC network also provides a redundant, back-up connection.
Charlevoix Public Schools
Merit staff met with Scott Mays from Charlevoix Public Schools and Tim Davis from Charlevoix-Emmet ISD.
In 2008, Charlevoix Public Schools built fiber-optic network infrastructure to connect all of its facilities. The fiber was used both by the school system and the City of Charlevoix. The REACH-3MC project connected to the existing infrastructure, allowing Merit to provide services in the city through a lease agreement. Merit serves Charlevoix County, Charlevoix Library, Charlevoix Public Schools, Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District, and Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Educational Service District.
North Country Community Mental Health
Merit staff met with Alexis Kaczynski and John Nelson at North Country Community Mental Health in Petoskey.
North Country Community Mental Health is a public mental health agency that serves Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmett, Kalkaska and Otsego Counties.
"We provide a range of publicly funded mental health services, all the way from infant mental health to state hospitalization that's required, and in between. We provide psychiatry, counseling, therapy, nursing, case management, center community treatment, employment support, housing support, and a vast program of residential programs for persons with mental disabilities," said Alexis Kaczynski, director of North Country Community Mental Health.
They utilize voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) over their network connection.
University of Michigan Biological Station
Merit Staff met with Karie Slavik and Bob Vande Kopple at the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston.
"It's one of the oldest continually running stations in the country," said Karie Slavik, associate director of University of Michigan Biological Station. "It was started in 1809. A field station is a community of researchers and students that come from all over the country to study, to research, in biology and environmental sciences. They study organism and ecosystems in their natural environments, so it's like a living laboratory, a living library."
They serve students and researchers from Michigan and from around the country. Researchers have been studying how the forest environment is effected when Aspen trees begin to die off. They also study the lifecycles of parasites.
The broadband network connection is used to check the health of a lake on the biological station's property. A buoy in the lake has sensors that detect algae blooms and measure the health of the lake, and it is connected to buoys around the world as part of the Global Lake Ethological Observatory.
The broadband connection is also used by one of the station's observation towers.
"(The REACH-3MC) project has been critical in maintaining our success as a leading field station," Slavik said. "Without it, we wouldn't be connected to all the other field stations, which means that we wouldn't be connected to the other institutions; it would really severely limit the capabilities of our students, researchers, and staff."
Houghton Lake Public Library
Merit staff met with Kim Frazho and Donna Alward at Houghton Lake Public Library.
The library was established in 1969 as a school district public library. In 1996, Houghton Lake Public Library became a district library.
The library is located in an economically depressed area, and most of the people that the library serves are not computer or Internet savvy. The library has been a community resource for Internet access. Since the REACH-3MC project's completion, there has been more Internet access available in the area.
Houghton Lake Public Library received a grant to replace its old computers, and they were able to get 14 computers--four in the children's rooms and 10 in the public access area.
"All those computers now are less than two years old, which is really how they can handle the broadband. The kids love it," said Frazho. "We, as you can see, we are sitting here on the school complex; we are not a school library though. We are a public library. The kids come over after school, and we, like a lot of other libraries, are after-school entertainment for the kids. We try to support the school whenever we can. Taylor Swift did a literacy program that was a webinar. The school didn't have the bandwidth to run it, so we let them come over here and run it in our meeting room."