Merit Network Wins REACH-3MC Broadband Stimulus Proposal

Jan 20, 2010, 16:41 ET from Merit Network, Inc.

Funding will provide 955 miles of fiber across rural and underserved areas in 32 Michigan counties

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Jan. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Merit Network, Inc. announced today the award of federal stimulus funding to build a 955-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 is 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."

"Anchor institutions in these areas providing essential services to the public will have access to leading-edge infrastructure," he said.  "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.

Merit Network will share fiber strands with Michigan commercial providers --; The Iserv Company, LLC; LYNX Network Group, LLC; and TC3Net -- to accomplish a public-private partnership that will impact every sector of society in the service area: anchor institutions, homes and businesses.

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.

"We're excited to welcome new members into the Merit Community," said Elwood Downing, vice president of member relations, communications and professional learning for Merit.  "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 REACH-3MC will deliver high-performance connectivity to businesses and homes in regions where it is currently unavailable," said CEO Don Welch.

"Business owners will have new options for bandwidth to support network-based applications," Welch said. "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.

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About Merit Network

Merit Network Inc., a nonprofit corporation owned and governed by Michigan's public universities, owns and operates America's longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan's public universities created Merit as a resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance. Since its formation, Merit Network has remained on the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides high-performance networking solutions to public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

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SOURCE Merit Network, Inc.