Traverse City Record-Eagle


September 29, 2010

Fiber-optic line coming to Kalkaska

Merit Network plans to complete first phase in 2012

KALKASKA — Renee Hannah leaves her home in rural Kalkaska County and drives into the village every time she or her children want to use the Internet.

"It's annoying. The kids don't like it," she said.

Hannah hopes construction of a fiber-optic backbone across northern Michigan will mean she soon may subscribe to high-speed Internet service for her home and halt her daily trips to town for online access.

That's the idea behind Merit Network's plans to create more than 1,000 miles of open-access network across Michigan. The company received millions in federal stimulus funding for the work, including laying fiber-optic lines between communities such as Ludington, Manistee, Beulah, Traverse City and Kalkaska.

Line construction is expected to begin in October, and the first phase will be completed by the end of 2012, said Eric Grandstaff, Merit's northern Michigan community relations manager.

The second part of the project will link additional communities, such as Cadillac, Lake City, Houghton Lake and Grayling.

Merit's plans will create "middle-mile" broadband infrastructure that will allow Internet service providers to connect and offer services to those currently limited to satellite or dial-up access.

"It will get us a huge step closer to having affordable high-speed Internet through the whole rural region," said Dean Farrier, president of Farrier Surveying in Kalkaska and chairman of the village's Downtown Development Authority. "We don't have a lot of employment opportunities and this will set up opportunities for knowledge-based professionals."

Kalkaska Village Manager Penny Hill sees the development as beneficial for more than just Kalkaska and those who live nearby.

"The whole region will benefit. It's going to start a whole new way of thinking about business," Hill said.

She said existing area businesses will be able to count on more online opportunities, including marketing, on a reliable network. Those businesses can grow stronger and new businesses — even those based in residents' homes — can start up, she said.

"It opens up a whole new arena for marketing for our area," Hill said.

Alana Wardzala just wants to be able to check her e-mail at her rural Kalkaska County home.

"I don't have the Internet because we can't get cable out there. I refuse to get dial-up because of the speed," she said.

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