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Merit Network celebrates REACH-3MC Fiber-optic Infrastructure Dedication for Monroe County

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Merit Network, Inc. announced on Monday the first completed segment of their REACH-3MC Broadband Stimulus Project. The announcement came at a fiber-optic infrastructure dedication ceremony for Monroe County held at Monroe County Community College.

Merit Network has successfully completed and lit the portion of REACH-3MC that will service the Monroe Community. The segment includes a lateral connection to Monroe County Community College. Laterals will also be completed soon to the Monroe County Library System branches, Mary Kay Daume Library and Ellis Library.

“This first build that covers Monroe is like the tip of an iceberg. There has been a tremendous amount of work that has gone on over the last three years to make this possible. REACH-3MC is just a foundation, and from this many great things will happen as many bright people gain access to this infrastructure and take advantage of this opportunity,” said Dr. Donald Welch, president and CEO, Merit Network, Inc.

REACH-3MC will build 2,287 miles of open-access, advanced fiber-optic network through rural and underserved communities across Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas. REACH-3MC is funded by two grants 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.

Joining Merit at the dedication were: Dr. David Nixon, president, Monroe County Community College; Dr. Donald Spencer, superintendent, Monroe County Intermediate School District; Ms. Nancy Bellaire, interim director, Monroe County Library System; Mark Cochran, field representative for Rep. John Dingell (D – MI), 15th Congressional District of Michigan; Gale Govaere regional representative for Sen. Carl Levin (D – MI); and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D – MI).

Senator Debbie Stabenow compared the REACH-3MC Broadband Stimulus Project with two other historic infrastructure projects for its power to transform communities: the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 and the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.

“This is the next generation of connection. It’s not the telephone anymore at the end of the road, it’s the Internet. It’s the broadband connection for the small business at the end of the road, from one end of Michigan, and one end of our country, to the other,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow.

“As we are competing in a global economy, it is just one more reason why we need to have this kind of partnership between the public sector and the private sector, educational institutions, libraries and everyone in the community. It’s a great day for Michigan and I am very pleased to be here.”

REACH-3MC features robust public-private collaboration. Merit Network is working with over 140 community anchor institutions that will receive fiber-optic laterals like those in the Monroe Community. Merit also has engaged three providers from the commercial sector, who are Sub-recipients on REACH-3MC and will offer services to homes, businesses and local ISPs in the project service area. And none of the work could be possible without contributions from vendors and contractors in the private sector.

Dr. David Nixon, president, Monroe County Community College, also recognized the historical significance of the fiber-optic dedication in Monroe:

“It is significant for the history of education in our community when technology is brought to Southeast Michigan,” he said.

Nixon went on to equate fiber-optic infrastructure with access to higher education. He shared a personal story in which he noted that students who were observed participating in remote distance learning–like the type of learning made possible through Merit and the REACH-3MC project–had the same positive, measurable educational results as students observed in the classroom.

REACH-3MC will provide the scope and ability for Merit Network to operate a truly statewide Education and Research network for Michigan so that the entire state can better work together and collaborate. That is one aspect of the project that Michigan’s education system can leverage for the greater good.

“This will make a huge difference in the services we will be able to provide and collaborate together on. This project is going to allow us to expand our ability to create partnerships throughout the state of Michigan. On a local level, it’s also going to allow us to do a lot of things we’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s going to allow us to connect the ISD to the college and the library,” said Dr. Donald Spencer, superintendent, Monroe County Intermediate School District.

“Public-private collaboration is also important because we need our families to be connected to the Internet in the same way that we are, so they can take advantage of the educational opportunities that our teachers are providing them.”

REACH-3MC provides maximum benefit for the investment, targeting the institutions communities rely on like schools, libraries, social service organizations and local government, and delivering an investment that will help those community anchors evolve and grow in the 21st century.

“Fiber is about connection. We all remember traditional library services: story times, book clubs and more. Today the library is all of that and more. It connects students with online financial aid and college applications and proctors tests for distance learning students. For job hunters we’re the connection to resume help and employment resources,” said Nancy Bellaire, interim director, Monroe County Library System.

“For many individuals the library is the only connection to Internet (wireless or broadband service) available–free of charge. In this economy, that has meant so much to our community in recent years.”

REACH-3MC will also help Michigan keep-pace with the changing 21st century as it works hard to revitalize its economy.

“The 21st century requires serious investment in our technological infrastructure like the 2,300 miles of fiber-optic cable Merit is working to install across Michigan,” stated Representative John Dingell.

“Michigan is 25% of our population, but they are 100% of our future. Their success requires 100% investment in their education, our nation’s infrastructure, our schools, colleges, libraries and our universities. And how appropriate it is that we are here celebrating this occasion at one of Michigan’s and our country’s top community colleges and education institutions as well as an anchor for the REACH project.”

REACH-3MC targets both education and economic development, providing Michigan with a platform to compete upon for decades to come.

“Expanding broadband technology is a must if we are to position our state and nation to compete in the global economy. This massive investment in broadband Internet expansion will bring access to important education and commerce tools to communities across the state, creating jobs today and investing in our future,” stated Senator Carl Levin.

“We owe a great deal of gratitude to Merit Network and its strong partners like Monroe County Community College. Thanks to Merit’s leadership, we will see the implementation of over 2,000 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure across Michigan so that local units of government and educational institutions can connect to the Merit Network and better serve Michigan’s citizens. The steadfast support of organizations like Monroe County Community College to serve as anchor institutions demonstrates how vital the community college network is to our economy. Best wishes and congratulations to all the stakeholders on a job well done.”