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Merit Network Breaks Ground on REACH-3MC Broadband Stimulus Project

MANISTEE, Mich. – Merit Network, Inc. announced today the commencement of construction for the REACH-3MC Broadband Stimulus Project. At a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the occasion, Merit staff were joined by representatives from the offices of U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, Manistee Intermediate School District, Connect Manistee, the Manistee Alliance for Economic Success, and construction vendor Earthcom, Inc.

“Extending broadband connectivity to every Michigan community will assist in diversifying the state’s economy,” stated Governor Jennifer M. Granholm. “The Merit Network project funded by the Recovery Act will give schools, local governments, libraries, health care providers and other important anchor institutions in Michigan access to high-quality, high-speed Internet service and provide expanded opportunities for economic development throughout the state.”

“Today is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work and collaboration between many key stakeholders in our state,” said Merit President and CEO, Don Welch. “Today shows that we are committed and well-positioned to achieve the goals of this project that the NTIA has entrusted Merit to accomplish.”

In 2010, Merit received two grants from the Department of Commerce to fund a 2,287-mile fiber-optic infrastructure build through many rural areas of Michigan. The network will also provide backhaul to key connection points in Wisconsin and Minnesota. REACH-3MC is funded through BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunity Program) of the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration).

“Merit is proud to lead REACH-3MC as we seek to improve Internet resources that will benefit education and economic development,” said Bob Stovall, vice president of network engineering and operations for Merit Network. “What has begun here in Manistee will go on to have a profound impact on Michigan.”

The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the offices of Manistee Intermediate School District. Manistee is the first of many communities where Merit will construct REACH-3MC fiber-optic infrastructure along its extensive route. Manistee ISD is the first community anchor institution to be connected to the REACH-3MC network.

“The Manistee Intermediate School District is very excited to be involved in the Merit REACH-3MC project. This broadband project has great potential to improve communications throughout the state of Michigan,” said Scott Crosby, superintendent of Manistee Intermediate School District and Wexford-Missaukee Intermediate School District.

“As a community, we are also very excited about Merit’s decision to start the project here in Manistee. Manistee County Schools look forward to the positive impact this network will have on education.”

Through REACH-3MC, Merit will enable state and local governments, colleges, schools, libraries, health care facilities and other community anchor institutions to connect to Merit’s private, high-performance network, enabling them to lower costs, consolidate services and provide more to Michigan’s citizens. Merit engages commercial sub-recipients on REACH-3MC to improve service to homes and businesses. Merit’s existing fiber backbone combined with the REACH-3MC network infrastructure will create a robust footprint in the state, providing Michigan with a strategic asset to leverage in the future.

“From our county, city, townships and villages to our businesses, nonprofits and health care providers, we have unified around the importance of high-speed Internet to our economic well-being and quality of life,” said Cyndy Fuller, executive director of the Manistee Alliance for Economic Success.

“With Merit, we have taken a giant leap toward our vision of having high-speed Internet service available to all in Manistee County, positioning us in this communication-dependent environment of the new economy to attract knowledge workers and connecting to emerging global opportunities.”

The first phase of construction, which the groundbreaking ceremony commemorated, involves distributing fiber-optic cable through existing underground conduit that Merit purchased from Manistee ISD as part of the REACH-3MC project. Because existing conduit was available for purchase, Merit was able to create cost savings for the project.

The conduit is approximately 21 miles in length and begins roughly a mile south of Manistee, runs north and terminates in Bear Lake. The conduit will interconnect with future REACH-3MC infrastructure at each end.

Earthcom, Inc. will participate in a portion of the REACH-3MC project construction, with additional contractors working in other parts of the state.

“This one small project will add six new employees to our team. In addition it has created jobs for material providers, trucking companies, and the local area merchants,” said Peter Bertsch, President and CEO of Earthcom, Inc. “It is a great feeling to know we will be a small part of Michigan’s recovery.”

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.