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Merit Network Receives second Broadband Stimulus Award—REACH-3MC II

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Merit Network, Inc. announced today the award of federal stimulus funding to construct 1,270 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in the Northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan. The fiber, which enables access to high-performance broadband, will benefit rural and underserved communities across 29 Michigan counties.

The fiber will pass 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.

The project, entitled REACH-3MC II (Rural, Education, Anchor, Community, Healthcare – Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative II), is an extension of Merit’s existing 1,600 mile-plus backbone network and a complement to Merit’s REACH-3MC project that received federal funding in early January. Both projects are funded through a program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

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 and Merit will have brought almost over $100 million in federal funding to Michigan and leveraged nearly $30 million more in private investment.

Network map that shows REACH-3MC Round One and Round Two network routes and Merit's backbone network

“Years ago Merit embarked on a strategy to own our own fiber-optic infrastructure. This was the best way to provide the performance and the price our Membership needs now and in the future,” said Merit President and CEO, Don Welch. “We knew it would take a long time, but also knew we had to get infrastructure in these areas somehow. The stimulus funding accelerates that plan to the benefit of the entire State.”

“We are honored that NTIA has entrusted Merit to put these Recovery Act dollars to work for the people of Michigan,” he said. “The open-access broadband infrastructure to be created will provide significant opportunities for economic development in our state.”

REACH-3MC II is a public-private partnership designed with the participation of six different commercial sub-recipients. Merit will connect community anchor institutions in the service area to its network, while sub-recipients will connect and improve the service available to homes and businesses in rural communities along the route. Each sub-recipient will own strands of fiber over various geographic segments of the network.

REACH-3MC II will provide the communities in the service area with “middle mile” infrastructure, which can be thought of as a main highway, pipeline or central trunk for a community to leverage.

REACH-3MC II will operate on an “open access” network. Any local Internet service provider (ISP) will be able to work with Merit and the commercial sub-recipients to access the network, enabling them to offer improved service at a lower cost. Local ISPs typically offer “last mile” service to end-users, extending service to homes and businesses.

“The areas in Michigan that REACH-3MC II will benefit, currently lack accessible, high-speed, middle mile infrastructure,” said Elwood Downing, vice president of member relations, services and communications for Merit.

“Without it, companies that wish to provide local broadband services face high costs to build lengthy fiber runs or must lease high-mileage circuits to carry traffic and that drive up the cost for the end-user,” he said. “This is especially a problem for community anchors institutions like Merit Members that provide important services to the public.”

“With REACH-3MC II, end-users in these areas will see a significant improvement in their ability to accomplish tasks that require broadband connectivity,” Downing said. “Learning, productivity and economic development will benefit greatly.”

In addition to providing the Upper Peninsula (UP) with high-capacity, affordable infrastructure that includes fiber across the Mackinac Bridge, REACH-3MC II will create two diverse spurs out of the UP.

Due to low population density and geographic challenges, there are limited ways for local network traffic in the UP to reach global interconnection points. In 2006, a single car accident downed phone and Internet service for the majority of residents in the region.

Michigan Technological University, located in Houghton, Michigan of the UP, will benefit from improved capacity and a second diverse fiber connection. REACH-3MC II features a planned 10 Gbps node at Michigan Tech’s campus.

“In addition to the virtually unlimited capacity the fiber will be equipped with, redundant paths out of our campus will be critical for our institution to thrive,” said Walter Milligan, chief information officer of Michigan Tech and member of the Merit Network Board of Directors.

“This will create opportunities for Michigan Tech to expand and improve our curriculum and offer more to our students,” he said.

“It will also be a boon to our researchers and the growing number of businesses associated with the Michigan Tech SmartZone,” Milligan said. “Many of these companies offer engineering services to remote customers, so high-bandwidth connectivity is crucial to their success.”

“By bringing backhaul into the UP through multiple diverse paths, REACH-3MC II will deliver a level of reliability to the UP taken for granted in other regions of the country,” said Bob Stovall, vice president of network operations and engineering for Merit. “The paths will also significantly improve the reliability of infrastructure throughout Michigan and the Midwest.”

The paths will terminate at the University of Minnesota Duluth and University of Wisconsin – Green Bay thus connecting Merit’s network with that of neighboring BOREAS-Net, Northern Tier Network and WiscNet networks. Leveraging these connections, REACH-3MC II will provide direct fiber-optic connections between community anchor institution networks from Alaska to Ohio.

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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