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Merit Network Announces NTIA Support for REACH-3MC Round I Project

ANN ARBOR, MI – Merit Network, Inc. announced today that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has issued the REACH-3MC Round I project a no cost-extension.
REACH-3MC and ARRA logos
The announcement comes following Merit’s December 31, 2012 completed milestones report, which stated that 98 percent of all strand, conduit and cable had been deployed on the 1,017-mile fiber-optic construction project. With the lion’s share of the infrastructure in place, Merit has also connected 53 Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs) of the 57 to be connected as part of the project.

In January 2010, the Merit-led REACH-3MC Round I project received ARRA funding through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to help construct a large fiber-optic network extension in rural and underserved areas of Michigan.

The NTIA oversees and administers BTOP. With the grant award of federal funding, the NTIA set a specific award period for REACH-3MC Round I project completion ending on December 31, 2012.

Merit was informed early this week that based on the substantial progress made thus far, the NTIA has granted the REACH-3MC Round I project a no-cost extension to complete the project before September 30, 2013.

Prior to the extension, the federal funds originally committed to the project would have expired on December 31, 2012. The no-cost extension means that Merit can continue to use the federal funding committed to REACH-3MC to finish the Round I project. No new federal funding will be expended on the project.

“Our plan is to have all remaining construction finished no later than January 31,” Karen Smith, CFO and REACH-3MC project co-manager for Merit. “When these last components have been completed, Merit will begin its NITA grant closeout work and complete a review of the infrastructure installed, which will be finalized no later than June 2013.”

“The remaining construction items to be completed in the coming weeks include the pulling of approximately 30 miles of fiber-optic cable through infrastructure that is already installed, connecting the 4 remaining CAIs, and finishing fiber splicing, “lighting,” and continuity testing on various short segments throughout the build,” said Bob Stovall, vice president of network operations and engineering and REACH-3MC project co-manager for Merit.

“Merit has made a commitment to many Members to deliver new and improved service in the New Year,” said Elwood Downing, vice president of member relations, communications, services and product development for Merit.

“Merit welcomes the NTIA extension because it will provide significant assistance toward that goal, but we will not let our foot off of the throttle. Our team continues to work diligently to ensure that the remaining Members are spliced into the mainline network and are provisioned and turned up for new service as soon as possible,” Downing added.

“The NTIA’s decision to issue our Round I REACH-3MC project a no-cost extension shows that the agency acknowledges the unique challenges and complexities Merit has faced implementing the grant. In addition to the large scope of our project, we faced a lengthy permitting process and two Michigan winters that slowed construction. We also worked with a complex series of environmental protections and coordinated our efforts with three other commercial organizations who were Sub-recipients on the grant,” said Don Welch, president and CEO of Merit Network.

“The NTIA has also demonstrated through the extension that they believe in the success Merit has achieved thus far and the benefits that REACH-3MC will bring to Michigan communities upon its completion,” Welch added.

Providing additional time for the completion of the grant will allow Merit to fully deliver the benefits promised under the award which include connecting CAIs to Merit’s statewide research and education network, creating an open access, advanced technological footprint for Michigan to leverage, and increasing broadband access for CAIs, homes and businesses in rural and underserved areas.

The extension will also ensure that the REACH-3MC network extension will operate as a “middle mile” network, meaning that other area projects similar to REACH-3MC also federally funded through BTOP and its sister program, the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), can connect to REACH-3MC, maximizing taxpayer investment in broadband infrastructure in the Midwest.

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.

For more information: www.merit.edu

About REACH-3MC

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.

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