ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Merit Network, Inc. announced today the award of federal stimulus funding to build a 1,017-mile extension of the research and education provider’s fiber-optic backbone. The fiber will extend critical broadband service to rural and underserved communities across 32 Michigan counties.
“This a great day for Merit and an even better day for Michigan,” said Merit President and CEO, Don Welch. “As Michigan strives to overcome economic challenges, broadband becomes an even more important foundation for the future.”
“Merit has sought ways of reaching institutions in these rural communities with fiber for the majority of the past decade,” he said. “Anchor institutions in these areas providing essential services to the public will have access to leading-edge infrastructure. The fiber will deliver connectivity that will enhance quality of life and bolster economic development.”
In August 2009, Merit Network submitted the REACH-3MC (Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Healthcare – Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative) proposal to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). BTOP is funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), better known as the stimulus package.
The REACH-3MC will connect anchor institutions with national points of presence in Chicago, Southfield and Cleveland, as well as two geographically diverse 10G paths to Internet2. With Merit’s existing fiber path across the Mackinac Bridge, for the first time in Michigan’s history, the research and education communities in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas will be interconnected.
In the context of today’s award, Merit will have created a comprehensive footprint that spans nearly all of Michigan, and the connection across its famous waterway is emblematic of the ways in which Merit’s proposal is designed to bridge the State’s digital divide.
Merit Network will share fiber strands with Michigan commercial providers – ACD.net; LYNX Network Group, LLC; and TC3Net – to accomplish a public-private partnership that will impact every sector of society. The new infrastructure will have a positive impact on anchor institutions, homes and businesses in the service area.
REACH-3MC will immediately connect 44 anchor institutions and was designed to enable access to 378 more over time. In addition, the fiber will avail service to 886,147 households and 45,875 businesses.
Merit’s portion of the fiber will allow state and local governments, schools, libraries, healthcare facilities and other 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.
“REACH-3MC leverages the current networks operated by Merit and partners to deliver maximum benefit for cost,” said Elwood Downing, vice president of member relations, communications and professional learning for Merit.
“Merit’s current Members enjoy tremendous benefits by collaborating and sharing resources and costs over our existing infrastructure,” Downing said. “Not only will institutions that are newly able to connect to REACH-3MC see improved services at lower rates. But also current Merit Members will benefit from the synergistic effect of the new anchor institutions on the extended network.”
“We’re excited to welcome new members into the Merit Community,” Downing stated. “The REACH-3MC will extend our fiber-optic network to rural areas across Northwestern, Central and Southern Michigan, and current members will benefit from the new connections in a synergistic fashion.”
In keeping with the objective of the stimulus package to revitalize communities, REACH-3MC will stimulate the demand for broadband, spur economic growth, and create jobs.
“Broadband access is a critical component for economic development, and the REACH-3MC will deliver high-performance connectivity to businesses and homes in regions where it is currently unavailable,” CEO Don Welch said.
“The project will have a significant impact on commerce by virtue of its openness, broad availability and pricing structure,” Welch said. “Business owners will have new options for bandwidth to support network-based applications. Internet service providers will have refreshed abilities to provide services in new areas.”
“We designed the REACH-3MC network using an open access model,” he said. “Any provider will be able to access the fiber at reasonable rates and terms.”
“The design supports legacy technologies common in smaller providers, while allowing for a smooth transition to advanced technologies as well,” said Bob Stovall, Merit’s vice president of network operations and engineering.
“REACH-3MC is scalable and accommodates future growth, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the network” Stovall said. “Michigan will have an infrastructure that supports a breadth of technologies like fiber strands, wave services and IP services of today and tomorrow.”
REACH-3MC will receive a grant to cover 80 percent of the total cost of the project. The total cost is roughly $41.6 million, with Merit and partners covering 20 percent.
REACH-3MC is coordinated with three other ARRA applications that target underserved areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Northeast Lower Peninsula and Thumb regions. Engineering and permitting will begin immediately, with groundbreaking for construction slated for May 2010.
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.
For more information: www.merit.edu