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Merit Network Announces Second Broadband Stimulus Award with Governor Granholm

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Merit Network, Inc. with Governor Jennifer M. Granholm announced on August 24, 2010 in a press conference the award of $69.6 million in federal stimulus funding for Merit’s REACH-3MC II project. REACH-3MC II will construct 1,270 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in 29 counties in the Northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan, with additional connections to research and educational networks in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Joining Merit and Governor Granholm in the announcement were: Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary for communication and Information, National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Rep. John D. Dingell (D – MI), 15th Congressional District of Michigan; and members of the Merit Network Board of Directors, Roger Rehm, of Central Michigan University, and Dr. Walter Milligan, of Michigan Technological University.
Governor Jennifer M. Granholm and Representative John D. Dingell speak at the REACH-3MC II project announcement
Dr. Kurt Demaagd of Michigan State University and Mark Bahnson of Bloomindale Communications, Inc. was part of the press conference to share details about their stimulus grant projects. Michigan State University received an award to construct public computing centers across both Michigan Peninsulas. Bloomindale Communications received an award to construct a fiber ring in Van Buren County that will interconnect with Merit’s REACH-3MC I fiber. The press conference served to commemorate the benefits all three projects will have for the state of Michigan.

REACH-3MC II is a complement to Merit’s REACH-3MC I project that received federal funding in January. When construction is complete for both projects, Merit’s network will have over 3,800 miles of contiguous, high-capacity fiber to meet the needs of Michigan’s research and education community.

Merit has brought over $100 million in federal funding to Michigan and leveraged nearly $30 million more in private investment. Both REACH-3MC projects are funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) and administered through a program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The fiber has the potential to impact over 525,000 households, 49,000 businesses and 569 community anchor institutions in Michigan, initially connecting 61 anchors to Merit’s high-performance backbone as the network is built, and many more as it becomes practical.

“Projects like this that create 21st century infrastructure will have benefits far beyond just the laying of the fiber and those who dig the trenches,” said Governor Granholm. “This will be huge for Michigan’s future in terms of education, giving all children access to the globe, and in terms of entrepreneurship, by giving everybody the chance to transact business online. There are so many corners of Michigan that up to this point have not had that opportunity.”

The governor went on to compare the REACH-3MC broadband projects with the monumental infrastructure project to connect both peninsulas 56 years ago.

“This broadband is our 21st century Mackinac Bridge,” she said. “It is our ability to connect both Peninsulas and connect Michigan to the world.”

“This is absolutely critical for this state modernizing its economy and competing in the 21st century,” said Representative John Dingell. “Future development is increasingly dependent on an information-based economy. I intend to continue working with my colleagues in Washington to see to it that the federal government does what it needs to do and what it should do to rejuvenate and to bring back Michigan’s economy.”

“Today we are helping Michigan make a small but important step toward economic recovery,” said Lawrence Strickling, of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “More high-speed internet means more small businesses, farmers, and entrepreneurs will have better access to national and international markets, to a broader array of vendors, suppliers and customers and to a team of skilled employees.”
Lawrence Strickling and Don Welch speak at the REACH-3MC fiber-optic network project announcement
“This program is a textbook example of government investment done right—with government funding catalyzing millions of dollars of additional private and local investment,” he added.

“This is a project that will scale over time and can provide service to these areas well into the future,” said Don Welch, president and CEO for Merit Network. “It will bring great benefit to the anchor institutions in these areas as well as to our commercial partners who will service homes and businesses. Not only will we be able to provide better capabilities, but we will also be able to provide it at a lower cost.

“Another benefit this project will bring is the idea of a statewide network. There are real benefits there for community anchor institutions,” he said. “We will be able to bring the values of a statewide network into these areas that have not been able to take advantage of this type of network for so long.”

Roger Rehm, vice-chair of the Merit Network Board of Directors, explained how years ago the Board asked Merit to develop a plan to reach all of Michigan’s research and education institutions with fiber-optic networking. It is amazing to see that plan come to fruition for the benefit of the entire state, he said.

“We are interested in two things,” Rehm said. “We are interested in education, and we’re interested in economic development. They go hand in hand, it’s impossible to separate them.”

“We expect that this project over the years will provide lots of opportunities for all Michigan schools. We expect that the high-speed network is going to generate the same kind of economic growth across Michigan that we saw when we grew the interstate highway system in the late 50s and early 60s. It’s an exact parallel, we expect to see the same results.”

Rehm explained that because of this project, corporations will no longer face a difficult decision when considering where to locate:

“Here is Michigan with tremendous physical resources and amazing physical beauty and I need a really modern business infrastructure,” he explained. Now they can have both, he added.

Two-thirds of Michigan Technological University students study engineering, and three-quarters study one of the related fields, explained Walter Milligan of Michigan Tech. He also pointed to a Smartzone grant project awarded to the Houghton area, where Michigan Tech is located.

“There is a thriving Smartzone in the area that has attracted a number of national companies,” he said. “Ford has offices there, so does GE Aviation. Most of these offices are performing engineering services for clients at a distance, clearly broadband access is important to the continued growth of this, so these jobs can be kept in Michigan and the US and not be outsourced.”