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Merit Network’s Don Welch Honored by White House as Innovator in Infrastructure and Champion of Change

WASHINGTON, DC – Merit Network, Inc.’s President and CEO, Donald Welch was honored as an Innovator in Infrastructure and “Champion of Change” yesterday during a ceremony that took place at the White House. Welch accepted the honor on behalf of Merit Network and its staff who are working diligently to complete the REACH-3MC project.

“As President and CEO, I have the privilege of receiving this honor, but it is really the Merit staff and all of the organizations working with Merit on the REACH-3MC project that have made this honor possible. Merit believes in fostering collaboration and this project is an excellent example of what can be accomplished when you bring people together to work toward a common goal,” Welch said.

The REACH-3MC project will construct 2,287 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure through underserved areas of Michigan and create key interconnection points in neighboring Wisconsin and Minnesota. REACH-3MC is funded with assistance of the NTIA’s broadband Recovery Act grants program, which is expanding broadband access and adoption in communities across the country.

“Our Recovery Act investments in broadband infrastructure are creating jobs and spurring economic growth in communities across the country. These projects will prime the pump for new private-sector investment and help revitalize communities throughout Michigan so they can better compete in the global marketplace,” said Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant secretary for communication and Information, National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Don Welch, Lawrence Strickling, and Joe Freddoso from MCNC at White House

As an Innovator in Infrastructure and a Champion of Change, Welch is distinguished for leading an effort that has created jobs in Michigan communities through the use of an innovative technique to develop a valuable project helping to improve America’s infrastructure.

REACH-3MC leverages public-private sector collaboration to maximize economic development. Merit has engaged seven different commercial providers through REACH-3MC who, with Merit, will each own fiber strands over various portions of the REACH-3MC network. On each network segment, there are multiple service providers (Merit and sub-recipients) competing to provide a given community the best value–whether it be wholesale transport to a local ISP, a fiber connection to a school or library, or residential and commercial service.

“This project was developed on a platform of public-private collaboration. Merit invited all who were interested to participate in our grant proposal, and in the end seven organizations stepped up to assume the risk and with Merit are making significant investments in Michigan’s future. Because of this collaboration, Michigan will benefit from a significant increase in services and extensive expansion of service areas,” Welch added.

Panel led by NTIA's Lawrence Strickling

NTIA is overseeing approximately 230 projects like REACH-3MC, reaching every state and U.S. territory, to expand broadband access and adoption. These projects are building and upgrading broadband infrastructure, expanding and improving public computer centers, and promoting sustainable broadband adoption through computer training and other approaches.

One of the Obama Administration’s priorities is expanding affordable access to and adoption of high-speed Internet in America. This is a key element of the President’s strategy to build the innovation economy of the future–one that supports new and better jobs, and enhances America’s global competitiveness. The emphasis on broadband stems from the fact that it is a vital link to providing opportunities for citizens to participate more fully in the global economy. When individuals don’t have regular access to high-speed Internet, they don’t have access to all the educational and employment opportunities it provides.

Despite the growing importance of the Internet in daily life, 28 percent of Americans never go online. Many towns and anchor institutions–such as schools, libraries, and hospitals–do not have adequate broadband service. Thanks to the Recovery Act, NTIA is investing in a host of projects nationwide to help close the gap.

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.

About Champions of Change

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

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