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Posted on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

Ann Arbor-based Merit Network lands $69.6M grant to expand broadband in Michigan

By Staff

(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.

"The broadband infrastructure to be created will provide significant opportunities for economic development in Michigan and the Midwest," Merit said in a statement.

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.”'s Paula Gardner and Nathan Bomey contributed to this story.



Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 9:40 a.m.

Thanks for the update on Wash. Wireless. And for the tech update! Good thing for the UP. I wish we could get something for us folks that live outside of any high speed access. I live between Manchester and Chelsea. I do have an air card from verizon. Kudos to them for the upgrades. Still, no real high speed.

Nathan Bomey

Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 8:45 a.m.

@Fensk, Here's an extensive update on Wireless Washtenaw we published earlier this year: Then, here's another update when Wireless Washtenaw's federal funding application was rejected: Hope this helps! Nathan


Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 8:22 a.m.

Washtenaw Wireless was using common WiFi, which is very limited unless you set up directional antennas on the outside of buildings and have clear line-of-sight to antenna towers which extends the range from maybe a few hundred feet to many miles. In urban environments there's just no substitute for fiber optic cable. In rural environments fixed-point wireless is probably much cheaper than stringing cable but it's still extremely helpful to have a fiber optic backbone network. It wouldn't take much for towns with moderate population density set up residential FTTH networks that plug into REACH-3MC II, or for a private company or co-op to do the same. I'm assuming that residential access is not being funded by REACH-3MC II. We could have residential FTTH Internet access here, AT&T has fiber nodes at those big ugly boxes all over town, but they don't want to run fiber for the last kilometer to homes. I hate AT&T.

birch creek john

Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 6:42 a.m.

This will be a tremendous boon to the U. P. and Northern Wisconsin. I suspect that the days when the whole U. P. has just one Area Code, 906, are limited.

just a voice

Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 12:10 a.m.

wow, over a hundred comments for dirty punks, but when something great happens in michigan no one seems to notice? This is fantastic and shows why 'when it bleeds it leads', its a sad reflection on us media consumers. as for Wireless Washtenaw, I think thats been dead in the water for a while, 20/20 is a joke and never did anything, as when the project started I lived in a semi-rural area (dial up only, highspeed was a mile from my house).


Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 8:33 p.m.

Whatever happened to Washtenaw County's wireless network?

Julie Martin

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 11:17 a.m.

Excellent news! More tech jobs in Michigan! And broadband to my friends in the U.P.