CHARLEVOIX — A new fiber-optic infrastructure agreement will have major benefits for the Charlevoix area.

Ann Arbor-based Merit Network Inc. is leasing strands of fiber within the community from Charlevoix Public Schools and the City of Charlevoix. The fiber will connect to Merit’s statewide fiber-optic network and will be used to serve Charlevoix-area organizations.

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As part of its REACH-3MC project, Merit has been building over 2,200 miles of fiber infrastructure across the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan. Two routes to Charlevoix are in the process of being constructed and will connect to the 3.4 miles of leased fiber, which will provide redundancy for network traffic going in and out of the Charlevoix area. With the leased fiber, Merit will be able to serve any community anchor organizations within the city.

Elwood Downing, vice president of member relations, communications, services and product development for Merit Network, called the cooperation of the city and the school district “a win-win for not only the Charlevoix community, but for all three organizations and the federal government. Due to their collaboration we were able to expedite our REACH-3MC Round 1 fiber construction project, leverage current resources, and connect anchor institutions without having to build fiber within the city. It is community collaborations like this that will help expedite high-speed broadband expansion throughout Michigan and into rural Michigan.”

For the first time, gigabit broadband connectivity will be available to organizations in Charlevoix, and by leasing the fiber, Merit will be able to connect organizations to the its statewide infrastructure. Typically, fiber construction within a city takes a long period of time due to permitting, but the lease enables Merit to access existing fiber.

“This unique partnership continues our efforts to expand broadband services throughout our community benefitting non-profits, libraries and governmental agencies,” said Rob Straebel, Charlevoix city manager. “By freeing up a small percentage of the city’s and school district’s excess fiber optic lines to Merit, we not only create additional revenues for our community but widen the array of broadband options in the city. It is a great partnership that we hope to continue in the future.”

Charlevoix Public Schools will serve as a metro node for Merit’s fiber-optic network and provide space for the equipment that serves the network in the area. Merit will be providing 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) connectivity within Charlevoix and have the ability to provide 10 Gbps service to the fiber-optic backbone network. The Merit Support Center will monitor the performance and status of the network node 24 hours a day, all year long.

In late December, Merit reached an agreement to lease fiber from Charlevoix Public Schools. The agreement with the city of Charlevoix was approved by the city council in early January.

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“After years of planning, it is tremendous that we have reached these agreements” said Scott Mays, technology director for Charlevoix Public Schools. “Access to broadband resources is essential to our students and the entire community. These agreements provide revenue for the school and city, while also expanding the reach of our fiber infrastructure by connecting our community to the world.”

Merit delivers networking and information technology services to education, library, government, and non-profit organizations, and will be providing services to Charlevoix Public Schools, Charlevoix County, North Country Community Mental Health, and others in Charlevoix.

Due to a lack of critical infrastructure, broadband availability has been sparse in northern Lower Michigan, especially in rural communities. Merit’s REACH-3MC project will significantly improve Internet connectivity in the region, building over 200 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure north of Gaylord to Charlevoix, Alpena, Mackinaw City, and other communities.

In 2010, Merit Network received two grants from the federal stimulus program to build the Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Health care — Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (REACH-3MC) — 2,287 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in rural and underserved areas throughout Michigan.

Through REACH-3MC, Merit will enable state and local government, colleges, schools, libraries, health care centers and hundreds of 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.

REACH-3MC also includes sub-recipients from the private sector to make broadband readily available to households and businesses that lack adequate service options in the 52 counties that make up the project service area.

Merit Network, 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. Today, Merit provides high-performance networking solutions to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

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