ANN ARBOR — Merit Network Inc. Monday announced the completion of Round 1 construction of its Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Heathcare – Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative project, or REACH-3MC.

All infrastructure is installed with fiber-optic cable along the 1,017-mile network extension through rural and underserved areas in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, including all 55 fiber-optic lateral connections to Merit members from the middle-mile infrastructure.

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Round 2 of the REACH-3MC plan is another 1,274 miles, and it’s under construction. The two phases were funded by two federal stimulus grants totaling $102 million, plus a 20 percent local match from Merit and local stakeholders.

“Merit began REACH-3MC with a belief in equal access to information for all in Michigan and a vision to better support and grow the Merit community,” said Elwood Downing, Merit’s vice president of outreach and member engagement. “The fiber miles announced today and the connections to our Members throughout Michigan are the culmination of a great project design and a great deal of hard work on the part of Merit and our community.”

Added Bob Stovall, vice president of network engineering and operations: “This great accomplishment would not be possible without the hard work of Merit staff and our construction contractors, the cooperation of our REACH-3MC Sub-recipients, and the assistance of the many utility companies, State organizations and local municipalities who assisted with permitting. This is truly a collective milestone for Michigan.”

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The project now enters the final testing and acceptance phase, in which all fiber strands undergo OTDR (optical time-domain reflectometer) testing to ensure proper installation and ideal performance.

Both Merit and REACH-3MC Round 1 Sub-recipients are currently using active fibers across the REACH-3MC network to “light” service to current members and customers. The final testing phase will verify the remaining fiber strands and engage REACH-3MC construction vendors to make any necessary repairs under their installation warranty.

Following testing and acceptance, the Round 1 REACH-3MC project will enter the final close-out period of the grant, which includes payment of final invoices and an audit of project financials by the federal grant agency.

Merit Network Inc., 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 to conduct the then-groundbreaking project of connecting their mainframe computers. Merit later became Michigan’s first Internet service provider, and today provides high-performance networking 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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