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Merit Breaks Ground On REACH-3MC Broadband Stimulus Project

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Participating in the groundbreaking Tuesday were (left to right) Scott Crosby, superintendent, Manistee Intermediate School District and Wexford-Missaukee Intermediate School District; Cyndy Fuller, executive director, Manistee Alliance for Economic Success; Brandon Fewins, Northern Michigan regional manager for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow; Gabe Schneider, community affairs specialist for U.S. Sen. Carl Levin; and Bob Stovall, vice president of network engineering and operations, Merit Network Inc.

Participating in the groundbreaking Tuesday were (left to right) Scott Crosby, superintendent, Manistee Intermediate School District and Wexford-Missaukee Intermediate School District; Cyndy Fuller, executive director, Manistee Alliance for Economic Success; Brandon Fewins, Northern Michigan regional manager for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow; Gabe Schneider, community affairs specialist for U.S. Sen. Carl Levin; and Bob Stovall, vice president of network engineering and operations, Merit Network Inc.

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Ann Arbor-based Merit Network Inc. Tuesday broke ground for the  REACH-3MC Broadband Stimulus Project.

At a groundbreaking ceremony in Manistee to mark the occasion, Merit staff were joined by representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, Manistee Intermediate School District, Connect Manistee, the Manistee Alliance for Economic Success, and construction vendor Earthcom Inc.

“Extending broadband connectivity to every Michigan community will assist in diversifying the state’s economy,” said Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm. “The Merit Network project funded by the Recovery Act will give schools, local governments, libraries, health care providers and other important anchor institutions in Michigan access to high-quality, high-speed Internet service and provide expanded opportunities for economic development throughout the state.”

Added Merit president and CEO Don Welch: “Today is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work and collaboration between many key stakeholders in our state. Today shows that we are committed and well-positioned to achieve the goals of this project that the NTIA has entrusted Merit to accomplish.”

In 2010, Merit received two grants totaling $102.9 million from the Department of Commerce to fund a 2,287-mile fiber-optic infrastructure build through many rural areas of Michigan. 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.

REACH-3MC is funded through the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“Merit is proud to lead REACH-3MC as we seek to improve Internet resources that will benefit education and economic development,” said Bob Stovall, vice president of network engineering and operations for Merit Network. “What has begun here in Manistee will go on to have a profound impact on Michigan.”

The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the offices of Manistee Intermediate School District. Manistee is the first of many communities where Merit will construct REACH-3MC fiber-optic infrastructure along its extensive route. Manistee ISD is the first community anchor institution to be connected to the REACH-3MC network.

“This broadband project has great potential to improve communications throughout the state of Michigan,” said Scott Crosby, superintendent of Manistee Intermediate School District and Wexford-Missaukee Intermediate School District. “As a community, we are also very excited about Merit’s decision to start the project here in Manistee. Manistee County Schools look forward to the positive impact this network will have on education.”

Through REACH-3MC, Merit will enable state and local governments, colleges, schools, libraries, health care facilities and other community 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. Merit engages commercial sub-recipients on REACH-3MC to improve service to homes and businesses. Merit’s existing fiber backbone combined with the REACH-3MC network infrastructure will create a robust footprint in the state, providing Michigan with a strategic asset to leverage in the future.

“From our county, city, townships and villages to our businesses, nonprofits and health care providers, we have unified around the importance of high-speed Internet to our economic well-being and quality of life,” said Cyndy Fuller, executive director of the Manistee Alliance for Economic Success. “With Merit, we have taken a giant leap toward our vision of having high-speed Internet service available to all in Manistee County, positioning us in this communication-dependent environment of the new economy to attract knowledge workers and connecting to emerging global opportunities.”

The first phase of construction, which the groundbreaking ceremony commemorated, involves distributing fiber-optic cable through existing underground conduit that Merit purchased from Manistee ISD as part of the REACH-3MC project. Because existing conduit was available for purchase, Merit was able to create cost savings for the project.

The conduit is approximately 21 miles in length and begins roughly a mile south of Manistee, runs north and terminates in Bear Lake. The conduit will interconnect with future REACH-3MC infrastructure at each end.

Lansing-based Earthcom Inc. will participate in a portion of the REACH-3MC project construction, with additional contractors working in other parts of the state.

For more information on REACH-3MC and Merit’s efforts to expand affordable, high-speed broadband access in Michigan, see www.merit.edu/meritformichigan.

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