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Merit Network, Enventis To Share BTOP Broadband Build in Minnesota, Wisconsin

ANN ARBOR -- Merit Network Inc. and Enventis, a subsidiary of Hickory Tech (Nasdaq: HTCO), announced they will work together to save taxpayer dollars on their respective Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) projects.

Enventis and Merit signed an agreement to collaborate on the construction of a fiber build from Superior, Wis. to Duluth, Minn. in which both BTOP projects were scheduled to build. The construction of this segment will be done by Enventis and will include crossing the St. Louis Bay.

Merit Network is building fiber infrastructure through northern Wisconsin into Duluth, Minn. to provide a redundant path for Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as well as to allow Merit to connect to several other regional optical networks serving education and research members in their respective states.

"The agreement between Merit Network and Enventis is beneficial to both projects as it allows us to maximize resources and save taxpayer dollars in crossing a very difficult waterway," said Bob Stovall, vice president of network operations and engineering for Merit Network. "The infrastructure being built by both organizations will allow us to join two communities and increase broadband capability across two states. We are proud to be working with our colleagues in Minnesota on this important endeavor."

Added Walt Prahl, president of HickoryTech's business and wholesale solutions division: "We are working to collaborate and achieve costs savings in all areas of this project in effort to provide the best value for taxpayers. These new fiber routes will provide high-capacity, affordable broadband services in rural, underserved areas."

Enventis was awarded a broadband infrastructure grant award in August 2010 as part of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. Enventis' Greater Minnesota Broadband Collaborative Project will enable high-speed Internet access in 36 rural communities across 23 counties. The project involves the construction of a fiber build from the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin to the Twin Cities north metro and a fiber build from Brainerd, Minnesota to Moorhead, Minnesota and neighboring communities.

The REACH-3MC (Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative) will build 1,270 miles of open-access, advanced fiber-optic network through rural and underserved communities in Michigan's Northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas. REACH-3MC II will connect 61 community anchor institutions as the network is built and will pass over 400 more over time. Led by Merit Network, Michigan's research and education network, REACH-3MC engages sub-recipients from the private sector to make broadband readily available to households and businesses that lack adequate service options in the 27 counties that make up the project service area. REACH-3MC II is funded by a grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), commonly referenced as the Stimulus Package. Merit Network also received a Round I BTOP grant to fund its REACH-3MC broadband stimulus project, which will build 1,117 miles of fiber-optic network infrastructure in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Both funded projects will interconnect to create over 2,287 fiber-optic network extension of Merit's fiber-optic network.

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