Computerworld Honors 2013: Remote areas in Michigan get connected with broadband

Merit Network, the 21st Century Achievement Award winner for mobile access, leads the effort to expand broadband in Michigan.

Computerworld Honors medal

REACH-3MC is bringing higher levels of Internet service, availability and affordability to remote and rural areas of Michigan by constructing 2,287 miles of middle-mile fiber-optic infrastructure.

Merit Network, Michigan's nonprofit research and education service provider to community anchor institutions (CAI), is leading the broadband expansion project. Starting in 2010, Merit Network received two Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grants through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help pay for the work. In total, Merit Network succeeded in bringing more than $100 million in federal funding to Michigan in addition to $30 million from private and local sources.

This is how REACH-3MC works: Merit Network is engaging seven commercial Internet service providers as grant sub-recipients to create the infrastructure that services all sectors of society, including homes, businesses and CAIs. The REACH-3MC network consists of a mainline network.

Merit and the grant sub-recipients construct fiber-optic laterals from the mainline to connect individual CAIs and businesses and to access cell towers and central office facilities. Both the mainline and laterals are constructed in parallel. Merit and sub-recipients each own fiber strands over various portions of the REACH-3MC network, ensuring competition at every interval. The network is governed by open-access principles enforced by the grant; ISPs cannot be denied access to the network where capacity permits.

The project aims to solve the lack of backhaul infrastructure in Michigan's remote and rural areas, where residents have had challenges accessing information and CAIs and businesses have had to contend with substandard levels of Internet, telecommunication and networking access and services, putting those organizations at a disadvantage.

To address such limitations, REACH-3MC is providing 143 CAIs with 1 Gbps-dedicated connections to Merit, enabling collaboration with more than 230 other CAIs that are already connected.

Moreover, by expanding Merit's footprint to more than 4,000 miles, Michigan's public institutions have a mechanism to cut costs and provide more service to their constituents. More than 900 additional CAIs will have the opportunity to connect over time.

As a middle-mile project, the aim of REACH-3MC isn't to directly connect every home and business in the network service area. Rather, the goal is to bring the backhaul infrastructure into rural regions and then give ISPs the opportunity to use the infrastructure to provide faster, cheaper and more reliable service.

All told, more than 1 million homes and 55,000 businesses in the REACH-3MC service area will benefit either as direct customers of a REA CH-3MC sub-recipient or indirectly through an existing service provider that obtains backhaul from a REACH-3MC sub-recipient.

Next: Government-funded program gets technology to students and families

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Read more about the 2013 Computerworld Honors Laureates.

To express your thoughts on Computerworld content, visit Computerworld's Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter stream.
Windows 10 annoyances and solutions
Shop Tech Products at Amazon
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.