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Merit’s Fiber-Optic Network Expansion Achieves Significant Milestone

ANN ARBOR, MI – Merit Network, Inc. announced the completion and lighting of the fiber-optic network segment between Watersmeet and Ironwood, Michigan. With this milestone, network traffic can now travel at the speed of light from Monroe to Berrien Springs to Ironwood—the equivalent of travelling from Ann Arbor to Tallahassee, Florida. To date, Merit has now lit over 2,100 miles of fiber in the two peninsulas of Michigan for its REACH-3MC fiber-optic network project.

“This is the culmination of years of effort, said Don Welch, president and CEO of Merit Network. “The impact on our members and Michigan will resonate for a long time.”

“It is a significant accomplishment,” stated Bob Stovall, vice president of network operations and engineering for Merit Network. “To be able to light over 2,000 miles of fiber is a major undertaking. I’m almost speechless about what our team has accomplished. Now the doors are open to our communities in the Western Upper Peninsula to be able to have services that they’ve never had before.”

Merit engineers connected and lit fiber to Gogebic Community College, Gogebic County, and libraries in Bessemer, Ironwood, and Wakefield. The organizations in the Western U.P. are now able to take advantage of high-speed Internet connections and offer more services to their patrons.

“This is going to be a game changer,” Stovall said. “The college has been anxiously waiting for this. This is going to be the glue that will enable them to provide services that they never could before.”

Construction on the REACH-3MC project began in December 2010, and at its peak, 40 construction crews were working simultaneously in parts of Michigan. Work on Round 1 of the REACH-3MC project in the Lower Peninsula was completed in April 2013, and final fiber construction for Round 2 will be finished this fall for the paths into parts of Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota.

The new network will connect over 190 community anchor institutions, such as libraries, schools and government buildings.

“This is great news for Michigan,” said Elwood Downing, vice president member relations, communications, services and product development. “It has been a tough road in building all the fiber-laterals to our community anchor institutions, and having them connected and ready before the fall 2013 school year starts is great. This fiber-optic network infrastructure will provide opportunities for schools, ISDs, libraries, local government, and business to working together across Michigan.”

“The REACH-3MC network provides the foundation needed to beginning the process of connecting the entire community. Merit and our participants will continue to work with communities across Michigan to build on this foundation, with a goal of providing the means to connect all of our communities across the state,” Downing said.

REACH-3MC project update map

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.