ONAWAY - Work is progressing on a new fiber-optic broadband network that will give Onaway and other Presque Isle County community institutions a high-speed data connection.
Onaway city commissioners voted in August to submit a METRO act application, which would permit the building of Merit Network's REACH-3MC broadband network through town. City Manager Joe Hefele said at the time it will improve the city's data infrastructure without disturbing the newly laid streets and sidewalks through town.
The METRO Act application is an important part of the process, said Patty Giorgio, Merit director of public relations, communication and community development.
"We have to permit every inch of this build, so we have to get permission from people doing the engineering that deems this appropriate," she said.
Once completed, the fiber-optic network will provide high-speed Internet access to community anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, medical centers and others, Giorgio said. It will be what's known as a "middle-mile" network, a major data thoroughfare to which institutions and Internet service providers can connect.
Work in Onaway should be starting by the middle of fall, Merit's vice president of operations and engineering said.
Onaway will be connected as part of the second phase of a statewide project to expand broadband access to underserved areas, including many communities in Northeast Michigan, according to a Merit press release. Overall, the nonprofit, public university-owned organization has received more than $100 million for both phases in order to build around 3,800 miles of fiber-optic lines.
Aside from serving public institutions, the fiber network can be used by Internet service providers, Giorgio said. The companies can access the network through one of its sub-recipients.
This creates a potential for cheaper high-speed Internet and, ultimately, economic growth, Giorgio said. Connecting residential and business users to the Internet can be hugely expensive for ISPs, and won't provide high-speed service to rural customers.
"They haven't done anything wrong, it just doesn't make business sense," she said.
As an open-access network, ISPs can connect through sub-recipients at market rates, Giorgio said.
Onaway-based Sunrise Communications is attempting to do just that, said Bob Goodenow, company president.
"We're trying to get access to fiber so Sunrise customers will be able to have much more robust and faster speeds throughout the entire system," he said. "We look forward to being able to work in that direction once the project gets towards its end phase, but that could be some time yet."
Seven community anchors throughout Presque Isle County will be served, Giorgio said. Posen, Onaway and Rogers City school districts are among them.
Originally, Merit had planned to bury cable under M-65 in Onaway during construction in 2011, said Bob Stovall, Merit vice president of network operations and engineering.
"We had it all scheduled, but our construction company didn't show and do the work," he said.
This required a re-engineering of the project, and plans now call to string the fiber overhead on existing telephone poles off Onaway's main stretch, Stovall said.
Fiber will be buried or strung up along road right-of-ways wherever possible, Stovall said. The work should not require any road closures beyond stopping traffic for a few minutes at a time to string fiber over the road. Lane closures might also be necessary in town.
Currently, crews are working between Mackinaw City and Gaylord, said Elwood Downing, Merit vice president of member relations, communications and services.
"There's a possibility we'll start going east from Indian River into Onaway from that way," he said.
Another option would be to build north from Hillman, where crews are nearly ready to begin pulling fiber from there to Hawks, Stovall said.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.