MSU, Merit Network Awarded $10.5M to Connect Statewide Broadband Infrastructure

Shot of an empty server room
MSU and Merit Network will use the NTIA grant to connect the disparate internet pathways throughout the state of Michigan. // Stock Photo

Merit Network based in Ann Arbor and East Lansing’s Michigan State University are joint recipients of a $10.5 million National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program Grant that will connect Michigan’s disparate internet pathways.

This program, named the Michigan Open Optical Network — Leveraging Innovation to Get High-Speed Technology, or MOON-Light — will help address critical infrastructure gaps by enabling technologically advanced, middle-mile fiber optic infrastructure across the state.

It also will allow interconnecting local internet service providers to bring affordable, high-speed broadband internet to homes and businesses in Michigan’s underserved and unserved population areas.

“The MOON-Light initiative will have a transformational impact across the state in providing internet access and is a true force-multiplier for upcoming ISP last-mile projects,” says Joseph Sawasky, president and CEO of Merit Network.

“With nonprofit 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. This project sets a strategic digital foundation for Michigan and will create a statewide ‘digital autobahn.’”

Letters of intent from several ISPs including Highline, Barger Creek, and Northern Michigan University have already been signed to further the public-private collaboration of MOON-Light.

As the state of Michigan continues to prepare for federally funded broadband investments, MSU and Merit proactively and independently applied for the NTIA grant to move things ahead faster.

The project deploys equipment only on a statewide scale and requires no additional middle-mile fiber construction. Implementation is expected to take 12 months.

Entire regions across Michigan lack high-performance fiber optical connections to the internet through mainline attachments (“middle-mile” infrastructure), and many residents remain unserved, with approximately 380,000 lacking any connectivity to their homes and businesses.

Unlike closed (private) infrastructure that offer services from a single service provider to residents, the MOON-Light network will provide regional connectivity through an open-access network approach. Open-access networks are high-performance networks that are open to multiple providers that leverage the infrastructure to offer high-capacity broadband services to residents and businesses.

“Closing the digital divide is essential to the future success of our state and our young people,” says Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, president of MSU. “When we partner together to solve our state’s most pressing challenges, we create a place that is full of opportunity — for all people and businesses. This partnership is a prime example of that and MSU is proud to play a role in this effort to connect Michigan.”

Johannes M. Bauer, director of the Quello Center for Media and Information Policy at MSU and a collaborator on the proposal says: “Once investment in the middle mile is completed in 2023, commercial and noncommercial 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.”

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