West Michigan schools, businesses, residents, and health-care facilities will have more broadband internet service options and could see lower bills thanks to a $33.3 million federal grant awarded Jan. 20 to an Ann Arbor-based research and education provider, reports the Grand Rapids Press. Merit Network Inc., a nonprofit owned and governed by 12 public universities in Michigan, is rolling out its Rural, Education, Anchor, Community, and Heath care — Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (REACH-3MC) project. The effort is a 955-mile extension of the firm’s existing 1,600-mile fiber-optic backbone network. The 32-county project will improve broadband offerings for underserved communities in Michigan, including primarily rural areas, Merit spokesman Elwood Downing said. Cable will begin to be strung by May, with two-thirds of the project to be completed within two years. The federal grant—a piece of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding—opens the door for smaller commercial internet providers to be more competitive with larger firms such as Comcast Corp. The grant was one of four awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration totaling more than $63 million. Michigan State also received an $895,000 public computer center grant to expand 84 existing library computer centers and establish four new ones…

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