Broadband project unveiled

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:20 AM

The Ann Arbor-based company will also enable institutions and governments to cut costs through collaboration and resource sharing.

“All of our communities in Michigan will be able to compete globally,” said Bob Stovall, vice president/network operations and engineering for Merit Network.

In 2010, Merit received two federal grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 totaling more than $100 million for the REACH-3MC broadband project. The project will build broadband infrastructure in many parts of the state.

The first grant for $33.3 million will build a 1,017-mile open-access network in the Lower Peninsula. A second grant worth $69.6 million will add 1,270 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure in the northern Lower and Upper peninsulas.

According to Stovall, many places in Michigan lack access to a high-speed backbone and it is a hindrance to attracting new business.

“We have good schools, we have great libraries, we have everything in Michigan except the full availability of services,” Stovall said.

Officials from local municipal organizations said they are excited about what Merit’s project might mean for the community.

“It opens up a lot of possibilities,” Loutit District Library Director John Martin said.

One possibility, Martin said, would be to provide a high-speed link between the Grand Haven library and the regional Lakeland Library Cooperative.

“From the presentation, I think that it’s going to be good for the community,” Ferrysburg City Manager Craig Bessinger said, adding there were a lot of collaborative opportunities presented through the project.

While the project is touted as a benefit to the area, project officials said it originally wasn’t going to go through Grand Haven due to the challenges of crossing the Grand River.

“It went east of here,” Stovall said at Thursday’s presentation held at Loutit District Library.

According to project officials, the original Grand River crossing was closer to Allendale.

“We really wanted to go through Grand Haven to begin with,” Stovall said. “We just couldn’t figure it out.”

It was soon discovered that Grand Haven Area Public Schools already had conduit beneath the bed of the Grand River that could house the Merit project fiber — and, in December 2011, this new route was approved.

“We appreciate the cooperation and collaboration it took to pull this off,” GHAPS Superintendent Keith Konarska said.

Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven-Spring Lake-Ferrysburg President Joy Gaasch said a lot of people came together to bring the project through the Tri-Cities.

“Everyone has acted in one way or another to work with Merit,” she said.

Merit Network officials said the project is already moving from planning stages into construction of the network. Stovall said they have their seven Michigan-based construction companies selected for the project, and 75 percent of the permits have been pulled for the first phase.

“Everything on the main line should be completed by October,” Stovall said. “I don’t see any problem with that.”


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