ANN ARBOR — Merit Network Inc. Wednesday announced the six Michigan-based contractors that will perform outside plant construction for Round 2 of Merit’s Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Heathcare – Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (REACH-3MC) broadband stimulus project.

As part of the Round 2 REACH-3MC project, Merit will run 1,270 miles of open-access, advanced fiber-optic infrastructure through rural and underserved communities in Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula.

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“Merit is proud to announce these contractors who will join us on this project that will make a tremendous difference in Michigan,” said Merit president and CEO Don Welch. “The benefits of REACH-3MC II to community anchor institutions and economic development will improve the quality of life in Northern Michigan.”

Added Merit’s vice president of network operations and engineering, Bob Stovall: “This is a powerful example of Michigan companies working together to benefit communities throughout Michigan. I am very excited to work with each of these organizations as we set out to create better resources for our state, and in the process, create jobs that will benefit the local economy.”

REACH-3MC II fiber will improve education and quality of life in the service areas by connecting community anchor institutions to Merit’s high-performance network. The participation of commercial sub-recipients, who will own strands at various intervals in the network, will improve service to homes and businesses. And because the infrastructure is open-access, it will support local ISPs with new, affordable backhaul options.

REACH-3MC II infrastructure will take the form of what is commonly referred to as a “condo build” in the telecommunications industry. Merit Network, having planned the network and applied for and received a grant, will be the owner of record for the fiber sheath and will be responsible for construction and maintenance. Within the fiber sheath, both Merit and commercial sub-recipients will own strands of fiber, creating separate networks within the same sheath.

The six contractors who will help to bring about the transformative power of broadband to communities throughout rural Michigan are:

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* AMcomm Telecommunications Inc., White Lake,
* CCI Systems, Iron Mountain,
* Earthcom, Lansing,
* Fiber Link, Lapeer,
* J. Ranck Electric Inc., Mt. Pleasant,
* Western Tel-Com, Holland,

The contractors announced Wednesday were selected from a number of qualified vendors that responded to a Request for Proposals Merit issued in April 2011. They will complete aerial and underground construction, installing conduit and deploying fiber through various segments of the network build.

Merit Network is funding the project with a grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. BTOP is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better knwon as the federal stimulus package.

Merit Network is a nonprofit corporation owned and governed by Michigan’s public universities that 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. Merit provides high-performance networking to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

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REACH-3MC II will connect 61 community anchor institutions as the network is built and will pass over 400 more over time. Led by Merit Network, Michigan’s research and education network, REACH-3MC engages sub-recipients from the private sector to make broadband readily available to households and businesses that lack adequate service options in the 27 counties that make up the project service area. Merit Network also received a Round I BTOP grant to fund its REACH-3MC I broadband stimulus project, which will build 1,117 miles of fiber-optic network infrastructure in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Both funded projects will interconnect to create a 2,287 fiber-optic network extension for Merit.

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