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Merit Network Celebrates 50 Years of Innovation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Merit Network, an Internet pioneer and America’s longest-running regional research and education network, is celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout 2016. To mark the milestone, Merit has launched a dynamic new web site ( and will host a special celebration during its annual Merit Member Conference (MMC) on May 11, 2016.

Established in 1966, Merit has been at the forefront of networking technology throughout its history. Merit’s engineers created groundbreaking router technology and networking protocols to connect the mainframe systems at Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University. The pioneering computer network served as the foundation for what is now a statewide network in Michigan and sparked Merit’s mission of connecting organizations and building community. Merit continues to be guided by these principles as it looks to the future.

Hans-Werner Braun with Merit's first president Eric Aupperle

   Hans-Werner Braun with Merit’s first president Eric Aupperle.

“Merit’s advanced networking foundation and its team’s spirit of innovation will help drive Michigan’s wonderful research, education and non-profit community forward for the next 50 years,” said Joseph Sawasky, Merit’s president and chief executive officer.

Merit served an instrumental role in a project that inspired the modern-day Internet. From 1987 until April 1995, Merit led a consortium to manage and re-engineer the NSFNET, the precursor to the commercial Internet and the first national high-speed network for research and education. The NSFNET connected 217 networks in July 1988 and expanded to over 50,000 by April 1995. The NSFNET backbone service connected universities, laboratories, and research centers across the country and was the major catalyst for the Internet and the explosion of computer networking around the world.

In 2001, Merit initiated its strategy of creating a statewide fiber-optic network in Michigan. Merit created fiber rings in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing, and began transitioning its backbone network to fiber. The strategy was accelerated in 2010 when Merit received two grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) program to build fiber-optic, middle-mile infrastructure in the underserved and unserved areas of the state. Merit now has over 3,900 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan and connects over 580 locations, including public universities, private colleges, community colleges, K-12 organizations, government, health care, and other non-profits.

“Merit’s infrastructure investment success has enabled our Members and communities to grow and expand opportunities utilizing the latest technologies to share and communicate information and ideas,” said Bob Stovall, vice president of network engineering, IT and operations.

Michigan Cyber Range hub at Velocity Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan

   Michigan Cyber Range hub at Velocity Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

In recent years, Merit has become an innovator in cybersecurity, providing a suite of cybersecurity services and certification training. In 2012, the organization launched the Michigan Cyber Range to provide cybersecurity exercises and certification courses. Cyber Range staff developed an immersive cybersecurity training environment, called Alphaville, where users can safely practice real-world skills in a secure environment. Individuals from power companies, public universities, government, Michigan National Guard, and others have used the Michigan Cyber Range to sharpen their skills to better protect their organizations.

“The Cyber Range is a great example of Merit’s commitment to community,” said Dr. William J. (Joe) Adams, vice president for research and cybersecurity for Merit. “We have built it to be responsive and adaptive to our Members’ needs, helping them defend themselves and the rest of the network against cyber incidents through classes and exercises. At the same time, the Range is an enabling force for growth and offers job training classes and product development space.”

As Merit Network celebrates 50 years of innovation, the organization will look ahead at the 2016 Merit Member Conference on May 11-12, 2016 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. “The Next 50” is the theme for the conference, which will look ahead at the future of innovation in networking, technology, and collaboration. The MMC will feature nationally respected speakers and engaging presentations by Members of the Merit Community.

Merit’s 50th anniversary celebration will be held the first night of the Merit Member Conference on May 11, and Merit invites special guests, supporters of Merit, individuals from Merit’s Member organizations, and others to attend.

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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