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REACH-3MC Fiber-Optic Infrastructure Project Nearly Complete

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Soon, Merit Network will have completed one of the largest fiber-optic network projects in the history of Michigan, building middle-mile infrastructure from Monroe in the Southeast Lower Peninsula to Ironwood in the Northwest Upper Peninsula. After 2,285 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure construction, only two miles remain to be built for the entire REACH-3MC project. In the Northwest Upper Peninsula, a short section is needed to join the segments between Hancock and Houghton, which should be completed next month.

“From the start we knew this project was going to be a challenge, but a worthwhile one,” said Bob Stovall, vice president of network operations and engineering for Merit. “As we complete the final pieces, I am proud of our team and the contractors that made this all possible. From Monroe to Ironwood, our community is already seeing the positive impact from this project, realizing new opportunities that this technology and capacity provides.”

Merit engineers recently lit REACH-3MC segments in the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Last week, Merit engineers finalized a short segment from St. Ignace to Moran Township, providing connectivity to Moran Township School. A few weeks earlier, engineers lit the segment from Ironwood through Wisconsin to Duluth, Minnesota, providing service to the Bad River Tribe in Wisconsin.

“The completion of this statewide fiber-optic installation is a keystone for the future of education in Michigan,” said Elwood Downing, vice president of membership outreach and engagement at Merit. “For the first time in Michigan, we can have a statewide education network that interconnects all ISDs, K-12 schools, public universities, community colleges, and state government together. We are very excited to help organizations in Michigan leverage this statewide infrastructure!”

Merit began the REACH-3MC (Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Healthcare – Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative) project in January 2010 after receiving a stimulus grant through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which was funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Merit received a second stimulus grant in August 2010.

Three years later, Merit has increased its fiber-optic backbone by 59 percent, growing from 1,700 miles to over 3,900 miles. Merit’s network supports the needed bandwidth requirements for K-12 education, higher education, health care, government, and other non-profit organizations. The REACH-3MC project has enabled Merit to provide high-speed connectivity to over 143 community institutions and to an additional 70 organizations that have connected by constructing last-mile fiber to the network. All of these organizations are connected at 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps).

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

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. REACH-3MC will connect 105 community anchor institutions as the network is built and will pass 900 more over time. 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.