SAULT STE. MARIE — Merit Network Inc. announced Friday that it has connected Bayliss Public Library in Sault Ste. Marie with a new fiber-optic line as part of the REACH-3MC project.

The connection was successfully “lit” with service in late January. The newly constructed lateral has a capacity of a 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).

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For Bayliss Public Library Director, Ken Miller, that was quite a jump from the former service, two T1 lines that together provided about 3 megabits per second. That makes the new line more than 300 times faster than the old.

“We have seen an immediate difference in the new connection,” Miller said. “It was a smooth transition. No glitches. This was a great experience because we demonstrated a need, and Merit responded to that need.”

Added Jim Lundberg, Upper Peninsula member relations manager for Merit: “It’s just wonderful to see libraries like Bayliss get fiber connections because they are such a hub for their communities. For many residents, the library is the only place where they can access the Internet.”

And Elwood “Merit is very proud to support our Member, Bayliss Public Library. We have worked with Ken and the staff at Bayliss for many years and we are excited to take the next step with them in offering improved service to their community,” said Elwood Downing, Vice President of outreach and member engagement for Merit.

Under the library’s old Internet connection, due to the lack of bandwidth capacity, Bayliss regularly experienced slow-downs in their service.

Miller remembered an important meeting he had with Jim Lundberg and Elwood Downing of Merit. In that meeting, they examined Bayliss Public Library’s usage graph, a tool Merit provides its Members that charts their connections and how much bandwidth they are using.

“For the past couple of years, the graph would go up to about 3 Mbps and then it was as if someone had cut it down with a lawn mower,” Miller explained.

“When we showed the graph to Elwood and Jim, they gasped. Then they said, ‘We’ve got to fix this.’ ”

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Merit included Bayliss Public Library in their Round II REACH-3MC project.

Merit’s Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Healthcare – Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (REACH-3MC) is funded in part by two grants totaling $102 million from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the federal stimulus. There was also a 20 percent match in funds from Merit and seven “sub-recipients” in the private sector, who are using the new backbone commercially to provide high-speed Internet in areas where it previously wasn’t available.

REACH-3MC has built nearly 2,287 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure through rural and underserved areas of Michigan. Additionally it provides direct, fiber-optic connections to 143 community anchor institutions, which are schools, colleges, health care facilities, state and local government, non-profit service organizations and libraries like Bayliss.

“Our matching funds for the lateral were in the range of $1,200,” Miller said. “Other companies quoted us upwards of $30,000 for a similar connection. There’s no way we could have been able to afford this without Merit’s help.”

With the new connection in place, Miller and his staff at Bayliss are excited to provide better service to their patrons. One thing that they have wanted to do for a long time but have lacked the bandwidth to do so is make Bayliss Public Library programs available via video conference. That programming includes speakers, authors, music and a community health series with War Memorial Hospital.

“We are cautious about technology because it often promises more than it can give, but this connection is not in that category,” Miller said. “It is a boon for the library and can stretch our programming budget farther.”

In addition to Bayliss, there are six branches in the Bayliss Public Library system spanning large areas of Chippewa and Mackinaw Counties.

“Our farthest branch is 82 miles away, while the closest is 23 miles. So this kind of connectivity is important to us,” Miller added.

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. Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University founded Merit in 1966 to conduct the then-largely experimental connection of their mainframe computers. Since then, Merit has continued to provide computer networking research and education, including becoming Michigan’s first Internet service provider. Today, Merit provides high-performance networking and IT products and services to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

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