Ann Arbor-based Merit Network lands $69.6M grant to expand broadband in Michigan
(This story has been updated with additional information about the grant.)
Ann Arbor-based not-for-profit Merit Network will construct a 1,210-mile high-speed fiber network in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - with connections to Green Bay, Wisc. and Duluth, Minn. - following the award of a $69.6 million federal stimulus grant to fund the project.
After receiving a $33.3 million federal grant in January and $8.3 million in matching funds to build a 1,017-mile fiber-optic network in the Lower Peninsula, Merit now has more than $111 million in federal funding to improve broadband Internet access.
The awards, announced this morning, also include grants of $6 million to Michigan State University and $5.6 million to a West Michigan communications company to build a 147-mile network in Van Buren County.
The grants were awarded through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.
"Residents across the Upper and Lower Peninsula will soon reap the benefits of these tens of millions of dollars in federal grants, creating jobs today and providing critical broadband Internet access to schools, busineses, libraries, local governments and research institutions across the state," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a news release.
Merit is a 44-year-old nonprofit whose core objective is to broaden high-speed Internet access and connect educators, researchers and community members.
The new funding is dedicated to the REACH-3MC II network (Rural, Education, Anchor, Community and Healthcare - Michigan Middle
Mile Collaborative), which will also extend across the U.P. and eight counties in northern Wisconsin. The network funded in January is called REACH-3MC.
Merit executives plan to discuss the latest influx of funding Tuesday at a press conference. CEO Don Welch was not available for comment this afternoon.
"We’re not going to solve the unemployment problem in Michigan by ourselves but we hope by providing this broadband Internet access we’ll contribute to solving the economic crisis throughout the state," Welch said in January.
The funding is part of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the economic stimulus package, which included about $7 billion to advance broadband Internet access throughout the country. The government today distributed about $1.8 billion in awards.
The federal government said Merit's latest grant would connect 61 community institutions to broadband access. Those institutions impact some 1.8 million people and 49,000 companies, the government estimated.
“The broadband investments announced today are going to put people to work in the near term, but they also will lay the groundwork for sustainable economic growth down the road,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement. “These projects will connect Americans who have for too long been without the full economic, educational and social benefits of high-speed Internet access - access central to success in the 21st Century.”AnnArbor.com's Paula Gardner and Nathan Bomey contributed to this story.