ANN ARBOR — Merit Network Inc. announced it has connected the first community anchor institution as part of its REACH-3MC network build out project. Forest Park Public Schools, located in Crystal Falls of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, now has a 1-gigabit fiber-optic connection to Merit’s backbone.

Merit president and CEO Don Welch noted that while the scope of the REACH-3MC project “is vast, its primary focus is connecting community anchors in underserved areas to improved resources. This occasion is especially exciting because we have connected an anchor institution in the Upper Peninsula, an area that has faced difficulty obtaining improved service options.”

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The connection comes through a partnership with Merit Network and Regional Educational Media Center No. 1. The Michigan Legislature created 22 REMCs across Michgian in 1970 to enhance media services for elementary and secondary schools. Hancock-based REMC 1 serves the Copper Country Intermediate School District, the Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District and the Dickinson-Iron ISD, which includes Forest Park Schools. REMC 1 provides Forest Parks Schools advanced network services including firewall, content filtering, intrusion protection, VoIP, video conferencing and more.

“The network at Forest Park Public Schools was congested before,” said REMC 1 director Mike Richardson. “Our remote connection dropped, Skype dropped, and video conferencing was difficult. We knew we needed to upgrade. As part of the REMC 1 Consortium, Forest Park Schools has unencumbered Internet now.”

Together REMC1 and Merit have helped schools leverage economies of scale, share fiber assets and collaborate for more than a decade. Because of the collaboration, they have helped advanced technology reach more students in the Western U.P. and at a lower cost. The new fiber connection to Forest Park Schools is just one example.

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Merit Network plans to connect over 100 community anchor institutions like Forest Park Schools as part of their REACH-3MC project. The 2,287 mile infrastructure project also features the participation of seven commercial sub-recipients who will offer service to homes, businesses and backhaul to local Internet Service Providers in communities along the route that encompasses both Michigan Peninsulas and parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

REACH-3MC, the Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Healthcare-Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative, is funded in part by two grants Merit Network received from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, part of the federal stimulus.

Merit Network is 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 shared 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 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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