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Merit Network Inc. Bringing Fiber-Optic to Rural Michigan by Connecting Anchor Institutions to Existing High Performance Network
By Greg Monroe
21c3 Asset: Messaging & Technology
On a crisp morning in early April, a group of Boyne City officials gathered outside city hall and prepared to board a specially chartered Charlevoix County Transit Bus. They had come together to mark the beginning of a much-anticipated project to create broadband infrastructure that will enhance the quality of life in their community and lay the groundwork for sustainable economic growth long into the future.
Among them was Pete Empie, construction manager for Merit Network’s REACH-3MC Broadband Stimulus Project. Empie and city officials were surveying a path that new fiber-optic cable will take in the Boyne City area.
Boyne City is one of over one hundred communities located along the fiber path that stretches across Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas. And the route the group drove in April is just one small portion of a tremendous 2,287-mile network extension Merit will construct over the next three years.
Broadband is especially vital in Michigan. As Michigan seeks to transition from a manufacturing economy to one that is based on new technology and information, successful communities will need to provide their residents with broadband access in the workplace, at home, and in their anchor institutions (schools, libraries, healthcare, high education, public safety, and local government).
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, commonly known as the “Stimulus Package,” contained a $7.2 billion investment in broadband infrastructure for communities across the nation. The ARRA investment presented an unprecedented opportunity to address broadband shortfalls throughout Michigan. Like Boyne City, many small communities in Michigan still do not have adequate access to affordable, high-speed broadband. Merit Network submitted and received two grant proposals to fund their REACH-3MC project (Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Health care–Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative).
A Comprehensive Community Approach
REACH-3MC was designed with a comprehensive community approach in mind. Through REACH-3MC, Merit will connect community anchor institutions to its existing high-performance network in Michigan. In addition to aiding communities by connecting key institutions that provide service to the public like schools, public safety, and local government, the project’s visionaries wanted it to benefit all sectors of society. The goal of the fiber-optic infrastructure project is to improve Internet access for over 1 million households, 55,000 businesses and over 1,000 community anchor institutions in Michigan.
As a “middle mile” project, the aim of REACH-3MC is not to directly connect every home and business in the network service area, but to build “backhaul” into a region. Local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will then have the opportunity to use this infrastructure to provide faster, cheaper, and reliable service.
REACH-3MC is akin to I-75, a Merit spokesperson said. We’re not going to build a road to everybody’s house, but we’ll build a big pipe and work with ISP companies so that they can pull from that pipe. Merit will connect community anchor institutions to that pipe because of their unique needs. Local ISPs will supply the on-ramps for homes and businesses.
What Will This Look Like in Your Community?
Each and every area REACH-3MC touches will resemble something different. The Merit approach can take many forms—we work with communities to accommodate their individual needs. To better understand the possibilities for your community, here are a few stories of communities that work with Merit currently, and how the REACH-3MC project will add to growing success stories.
In the village of Hillman, Merit is working with local representatives to create a complete and robust fiber infrastructure. Merit has already connected the Community Mental Health office in Hillman to its counterpart in Alpena, and will continue to work to connect more community anchor institutions. Merit has supported the Allband Communications Cooperative in the Hillman and northeastern Michigan area for quite some time. Allband is one local ISP that will leverage the REACH-3MC infrastructure. Homes and businesses in Hillman can expect improved service.
In Norway, a community near the Wisconsin border in the U.P., Merit is working with Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District to leverage the REACH-3MC infrastructure. When it is completed, the schools of Norway, Forest Park, and West Iron will be tied to the schools of neighboring Iron Mountain and Escanaba, and more importantly the students will have access to new learning opportunities nationwide and across the globe through Merit and REACH-3MC infrastructure.
Rogers City will also see the benefits of 21st century broadband. Merit has engaged area schools, multiple health care facilities, and local government and will provide the opportunity for them to connect to Merit’s network with REACH-3MC infrastructure. This will provide them with the same or better resources than counterpart organizations anywhere else in the nation. REACH-3MC can be a vehicle to spur economic development in Rogers City, a particular value-add to tourism, and provide 21st century network infrastructure to their current businesses and workforce.
Businesses considering relocation to Michigan will no longer face difficult choices. Michigan has always had incredible physical beauty, but a lack of modern infrastructure has sometimes deterred potential companies from operating here. With the completion of REACH-3MC, prospective companies will not be forced to decide between setting and resources. Our state will have pristine nature and leading-edge modern business infrastructure.
REACH-3MC will tie communities throughout Michigan with infrastructure that stretches worldwide and at state-of-the-art speeds that allow for the most advanced transfer of data. Speeds offered on the REACH-3MC network will be as high as 1 Gbps (gigabits per second) to 10 Gbps. The fiber is future-proof in the sense that even those speeds can be increased with a one-time upgrade in electronics. The 21st century infrastructure will help municipalities market themselves to prospective businesses and help cities and villages retain their current businesses and workforce.
For more information about REACH-3MC, please visit: www.merit.edu/meritformichigan.
For more information about Merit, please visit: www.merit.edu.
Greg Monroe is grants, development & communications specialist for Merit Network, Inc. You may reach him at 734-527-5733 or firstname.lastname@example.org.