Chippewa, Luce and Mackinac counties are going to see more broadband internet infrastructure in the upcoming years.
The increased access to broadband will bring internet access to many people who don’t have it in rural counties.
The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $3 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to Merit Network, Inc. in addition to $2.3 million in local funds to support construction of a 70-mile, middle-mile fiber optic infrastructure.
The project will see the creation of 70 miles of middle-mile open- access fiber optic infrastructure. This means that other internet providers, not just Merit Networks, will be able to use this infrastructure to increase their own internet services to areas which currently don’t have access to broadband internet.
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There are multiple kinds of broadband infrastructure. The kind that is being built in this project is middle-mile. Middle-mile infrastructure is like a highway, it is meant to connect two areas that are very far away. After this construction is complete, Merit Networks and other companies will be able to add last-mile infrastructure, which is like adding an exit to the highway.
By creating this middle-mile infrastructure in places where it currently doesn’t exist, it puts internet providers in a position to expand off of it with last-mile infrastructure, which will expand access to specific areas. With this method of building off of the larger middle-mile structure, this project could bring broadband internet to a majority of the homes and businesses currently in Chippewa, Luce and Mackinac counties.
“This network will enable the last-mile providers to not have to build their own middle mile out to those communities,” said Charlotte Bewersdorff, vice president for community engagement for Merit Network. “You can think of like our middle mile is like kind of a highway that traveled all over the state, and then last mile networks hop off of the highway like a highway exit that then goes to the community. “
This project will bring not only better internet connection to people but will also make internet available to people who don’t have it already.
“It’s got the potential to help up to several thousands of homes and businesses.” said Bewerdorff.
This project began with a grant application in 2020 by Merit Network to increase broadband access across the EUP. Construction of the physical infrastructure will begin in several months and the project will take several years to finish. The middle-mile construction is expected to be finished in 2026.
The project is expected to create and maintain 60 or more jobs between the construction and maintenance of the infrastructure.