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Construction Heats Up on Merit Network’s REACH-3MC Broadband Infrastructure Project

ANN ARBOR – After hundreds of permit requests, environmental assessments, engineering and vendor selection, Merit Network Inc. will begin major construction in earnest for their REACH-3MC fiber-optic infrastructure project this month.
REACH-3MC construction sign
Several segments of underground construction have begun around the state. From the southern border all the way to the Mackinaw Bridge, residents should start to see the REACH-3MC ARRA signs popping up along the roadside. At this point, Merit is primarily placing conduit into the underground sections of the build as they await permits for much of the aerial portions. This portion of the underground construction will be taking place in Kalkaska, Emmett, Charlevoix, Antrim, Mason and Grand Traverse counties over the next several weeks, with other counties throughout the state set to begin as soon as permitting is approved. “Once we have 20 miles of permits for a contiguous segment of the route, construction companies will begin to build the aerial portion of the segment and pull fiber through the conduit,” said Bob Stovall, Vice-President of Network Operations and Engineering.

Merit Network is in the process of building a 2,300 mile fiber-optic network throughout the state of Michigan with the assistance of two American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grants in the amount of $102 million along with a 20 percent match in funds from Merit and its sub-recipients. The REACH-3MC project is one of the largest BTOP projects in the country and is expected to serve 52 counties in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s.

According to Merit Network president and CEO, Don Welch “A project of this size and scope always comes with significant challenges, and this project has certainly had some. But I am happy with our progress and believe that we have laid the foundation necessary to build this network within the time limitations legislated by Congress and within the budget we created in our proposal. “Merit is guided by a vision of equal access to information for all Michigan citizens—regardless of geographic location,” and I believe that we are positioned to make significant progress in achieving this goal”.

Earlier in the year Merit announced the selection of Earthcom as one of the construction firms that will be working on the REACH-3MC project. Shortly Merit will announce the selection of six additional construction firms to join Earthcom in constructing the Round I portion of the REACH-3MC route through several areas of the Lower Peninsula. Work continues on vendor selection for the Round II portion of the route which includes the Upper Peninsula with segments into Wisconsin and Minnesota.

About Merit Network

Merit Network Inc., is a nonprofit corporation owned and governed by Michigan’s public universities. Merit owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan’s public universities created Merit as a shared resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance. Since its formation, Merit Network has remained at the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides high-performance networking and IT solutions to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

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The REACH Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (REACH-3MC) will build 2,287 miles of open-access, advanced fiber-optic network through rural and underserved communities in Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas. The network will also provide backhaul to key connection points in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Led by Merit Network, Michigan’s research and education network, REACH-3MC includes sub-recipients from the private sector to make broadband readily available to households and businesses that lack adequate service options in the 52 counties that make up the project service area. REACH-3MC is funded by a two grants (Round I and Round II) from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), commonly referenced as the Stimulus Package.