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Merit Network CEO Supports BTOP Grant Before House of Representatives Subcommittee

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Merit Network, Inc. President and CEO, Don Welch, testified today before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Communications and Technology at a hearing entitled, “ARRA Broadband Spending.”

Welch spoke to the benefits of a Merit-led project that will create much-needed “middle mile,” or backhaul infrastructure through rural and remote areas of Michigan, and directly connect over 100 community anchor institutions.

The project, REACH-3MC, was awarded two grants from the Broadband Technology and Opportunities Program (BTOP) that were funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), otherwise known as the “Stimulus Package.”

“Merit is guided by a vision of equal access to information for all Michigan citizens—regardless of geographic location,” said Welch.

“For almost a decade, Merit has had a plan to build fiber to serve community anchor institutions in rural and remote regions of Michigan where an absence of viable backhaul has left entire communities underserved, but we have lacked the funds to do so,” Welch explained.

“Through BTOP, and with the support of Michigan public universities, Merit’s vision is within reach—to the benefit of all sectors of society, and the entire state.”

Don Welch testifying

REACH-3MC will provide 105 community anchor institutions direct connections to Merit’s leading-edge, research and education backbone, and provide 900 more anchors with the opportunity to participate.

“Community anchor institutions need access to a private network of peer organizations for the exchange of information, consolidation and sharing of services,” said Welch. “The Merit network is the platform our Members use to collaborate, cut costs and provide better service to their constituents and patrons.”

“Our project will eliminate geographic barriers for Michigan community anchor institutions. Merit has Members in the Upper Peninsula that are further away from Merit’s offices in Ann Arbor, than the distance between Ann Arbor and Washington, D.C. This project will enable them to collaborate with Members across the state, as if they were across town.”

REACH-3MC was designed with the participation of eight commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that will improve service to homes, businesses and incumbent ISPs. In the service area, the majority of costs to provide service to end-users go to backhaul. The participation of commercial sub-recipients could help improve service to 55,000 businesses and one million homes.

Joining Welch as witnesses submitting testimony for the Subcommittee were Todd Zinser, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Commerce; Phyllis K. Fong, inspector general, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Mark Goldstein, from the Government Accountability Office, and the president of a small rural telecommunications provider based in Hays, Kansas, Gary Shorman of Eagle Communications.

Together, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) BTOP and US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) administered $7.2 billion in grants and loans for broadband deployment and adoption. The last of the grants was made in late September.

The Subcommittee scheduled the hearing to learn more about how the federal investment in broadband was being spent.