Merit and MSU to build fiber optic infrastructure that connects Michigan’s underserved communities

What’s happening: Access to broadband internet is poised to improve in Michigan’s rural and other underserved communities, this thanks to a $10.5 million National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program Grant awarded to Michigan State University and Merit Network, the latter an independent nonprofit corporation governed by Michigan’s public universities. It’s estimated that approximately 380,000 Michigan homes and businesses currently lack internet connectivity.

What it is: The joint program between MSU and Merit will create the Michigan Open Optical Network – Leveraging Innovation to Get High-Speed Technology (MOON-Light), an open-access network that will connect the state’s many different local Internet service providers (ISPs) by installing the “middle-mile” infrastructure necessary for future projects to complete their own “last-mile” connections. It’s expected that installation will be completed within 12 months.

Why it’s important: “This project will be a major step towards eliminating discrepancies in broadband access across the entire state,” says Johannes M. Bauer, Director of the Quello Center for Media and Information Policy at Michigan State University, a collaborator in the proposal. “Once investment in the middle mile is completed in 2023, commercial and non-commercial service providers will be able to close the current gap in broadband access faster and more cheaply. This will enable Michiganders to more fully participate in the economy and communities to pursue new paths of economic development and inclusion. It will provide new means to access education, health, care, and government services. In many communities broadband access has also energized civic life.”

Laying the groundwork: With federally-funded broadband investments already scheduled to come to Michigan, MSU and Merit say that their MOON-Light network will help speed progress, installing the fiber optic infrastructure necessary for various ISPs to plug into.

“With non-profit and cooperative organizations working together with commercial ISPs, we are uniquely positioned to reduce costs and accelerate broadband projects for Michigan in model public-private partnerships,” says Joseph Sawasky, president and CEO of Merit Network.