Tuesday, September 7, 2010/Gaylord Herald Times
By Chris Engle
GAYLORD — Another $70 million federal grant will allow Merit Network, Inc. to construct a 1,210-mile fiberoptic network offering an “interstate” of broadband Internet service across Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
The project, titled REACH-3MC II (Rural, Education, Anchor, Community, Healthcare - Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative) is the second of its kind to earn Ann Arbor-based Merit Network federal funding to provide “middle-mile” broadband to the region. A $33 million federal grant was awarded in January to provide similar connections across Michigan (see related story for project descriptions). Both grants come from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Institutions including schools, hospitals and libraries will be connected as construction takes place next year. While it will not directly connect to homes and businesses, Merit Network president and CEO Don Welch said it will drastically reduce the costs to commercial Internet providers looking to serve those customers. Local providers can tie in to the connections once they’re in place and have been tested.
“We’re basically building an interstate to which local providers can connect and offer services,” Welch said Tuesday morning. “It’s really building a strong foundation known as the ‘middle mile,’ and we have commercial partners who can provide services to homes and businesses in the ‘last mile.’”
Welch also said even customers in outlying areas, where high-speed Internet is currently unavailable, or available at “exorbitant cost,” will likely benefit from this project.
“This will lower the cost for local providers looking to invest and build infrastructure to serve outlying areas,” he said. “It will help expand service to areas where, before, there would be a lot more investment involved.”
Partners in the Gaylord area include ACD.net, Lynx Network Group and Great Lakes Comnet, Inc.
The fiberoptic cables — bundles up to 2 inches thick containing 72 to 144 glass fibers — will run both on utility poles and underground and carry laser beams shooting through at different wavelengths. Each pair of strands can carry 40, 10-gigabyte connections, and Welch said just six strands could provide Gaylord with more bandwidth than it could consume today.
Once all cables are installed, Gaylord will be a crossroads of three individual cables, creating a redundancy in the system that no one accident, such as a line break, can disrupt.
Officials involved in the projects are expected to meet in October to discuss a construction timeline.
The $69 million grant was the sixth largest to be awarded nationally in August. A $102 million grant was awarded to the University of Arkansas System.