ANN ARBOR (WWJ) — Merit Network Inc. announced the completion and lighting of the fiber-optic network segment between Watersmeet and Ironwood in the Upper Peninsula.

With this milestone, network traffic can now travel at the speed of light from Monroe to Berrien Springs to Ironwood — the equivalent of travelling from Ann Arbor to Tallahassee, Florida.

READ MORE: 'Big Brother' Debuts Wednesday in a Special 90-Minute Live Event

To date, Merit has now lit over 2,100 miles of fiber in the two peninsulas of Michigan for its REACH-3MC fiber-optic network project.

“This is the culmination of years of effort,” said Don Welch, president and CEO of Merit Network. “The impact on our members and Michigan will resonate for a long time.”

“It is a significant accomplishment,” stated Bob Stovall, vice president of network operations and engineering for Merit Network. “To be able to light over 2,000 miles of fiber is a major undertaking. I’m almost speechless about what our team has accomplished. Now the doors are open to our communities in the Western Upper Peninsula to be able to have services that they’ve never had before.”

Merit engineers connected and lit fiber to Gogebic Community College, Gogebic County, and libraries in Bessemer, Ironwood, and Wakefield. The organizations in the Western U.P. are now able to take advantage of high-speed Internet connections and offer more services to their patrons.

READ MORE: "The Challenge: USA" Brings Together Former Competitors from "Survivor," "Big Brother" & More

“This is going to be a game changer,” Stovall said. “The college has been anxiously waiting for this. This is going to be the glue that will enable them to provide services that they never could before.”

Construction on the REACH-3MC project began in December 2010, and at its peak, 40 construction crews were working simultaneously in parts of Michigan. Work on Round 1 of the REACH-3MC project in the Lower Peninsula was completed in April 2013, and final fiber construction for Round 2 will be finished this fall for the paths into parts of Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota.

The new network will connect over 190 community anchor institutions, such as libraries, schools and government buildings.

“This is great news for Michigan,” said Elwood Downing, vice president member relations, communications, services and product development. “It has been a tough road in building all the fiber-laterals to our community anchor institutions, and having them connected and ready before the fall 2013 school year starts is great. This fiber-optic network infrastructure will provide opportunities for schools, ISDs, libraries, local government, and business to working together across Michigan. The REACH-3MC network provides the foundation needed to beginning the process of connecting the entire community. Merit and our participants will continue to work with communities across Michigan to build on this foundation, with a goal of providing the means to connect all of our communities across the state.”

In 2010, Merit Network received two federal stimulus awards totaling $102 million for REACH-3MC. The Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Health care – Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (REACH-3MC) is creating 2,287 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in rural and underserved areas throughout Michigan and provide backhaul to key interconnection points in Wisconsin and Minnesota. REACH-3MC will connect 105 community anchor institutions as the network is built and will pass 900 more over time. More at

MORE NEWS: Big Brother 24 Features Michigan Native, Taylor Hale

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 to conduct the then-novel project of linking their mainframe computers. The organization continued to provide networking assistance and evolved into Michigan’s original Internet service provider. Today, it continues to provide high-performance networking to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.