The Internet is one of modern society’s most essential infrastructure assets. It enables commerce and communication to take place across the world in mere seconds. For most undergraduate students at URC institutions today, a world without the Internet would be unimaginable. It might surprise these students to learn that their very universities pioneered the technology that foretold the modern Internet.
Founded in 1966, the Michigan Educational Research Information Triad (Merit) Network, began as a partnership between the state’s three largest public institutions—MSU, U-M, and WSU—to connect researchers and share data by creating a network that could connect mainframe computers across college campuses.
For over 50 years, the Merit Network has generated innovations in communications technology, not just for Michigan but the world. This visionary effort has empowered Michigan’s residents with access to social connectivity, entertainment, information, economic benefits, and a host of other services available through the Internet. Today the Merit Network provides improved Internet access across all public universities in Michigan through the expansion of fiber optics, promoting cutting-edge network services and protecting data through cybersecurity training.
Prior to the Merit Network, it was impossible for universities’ computer systems to communicate or share resources with each other. Shortly after the creation of Merit, the three founding universities were officially linked by a network, which represented a major achievement for Merit and served as a prototype for future computer networks.
As communications technology continued to advance, the Merit Network connected Michigan’s system to supercomputing centers as far away as San Diego, Pittsburgh, and the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET), the forerunner of today’s Internet. In 1987, a Merit-led consortium (including organizations like IBM, MCI, and the Michigan Strategic Fund) won a grant from the National Science Foundation to re-engineer and manage the NSFNET. This new network service connected supercomputing centers around the country at speeds 24 times faster than previously possible and grew to link scientists and educators on university campuses nationwide and around the world.
Through its MichNet services, Merit began rapid expansion of its statewide network offering direct connect and dial-in services. By 2001, there were 10,733 shared dial-in lines in more than 200 Michigan cities. Merit continued to advance along with technology, and in the early 2000s began building out its newer, faster fiberoptic network.
The next major phase of expansion began in 2010, when Merit received over $100 million in federal funding to fund their Rural, Education, Anchor, Community, and Healthcare–Michigan Middle Mile Collaborative (REACH-3MC) project. Completed in 2014, the REACH-3MC project installed 2,287 miles of fiberoptic infrastructure and connected more than 200 community institutions and organizations in rural and underserved communities in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Upper Peninsula, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The new fiberoptic connections increased network speeds providing broadband speeds to previously unserved or underserved parts of Michigan.
The Merit Network now covers a wide range of exciting services beyond network connectivity, including:
Since its early role in connecting network computers between universities, Merit has drastically expanded the state’s Internet access in Michigan and pioneered the technology that makes today’s Internet possible. “Merit has grown over the past 50 years to serve as the primary networking organization for the state of Michigan higher education community,” said Daren Hubbard, CIO and associate vice president of computing and information technology at Wayne State University and chair of Merit’s Board of Directors.
Merit’s history of innovation has fostered a wide range of cutting-edge services and tools that have helped Michigan educational institutions achieve success. Merit has partnered with other organizations, such as Internet2, to expand access and is on the cutting edge of issues such as cybersecurity. In partnership with URC institutions, Merit has led the way in building the network infrastructure that provides Internet access across the state and provides services that ensure network access is safe, efficient, and valuable for Michigan families.
As Hubbard put it, “We appreciate Merit’s technological vision that has shaped our present and look to its leadership to shape the future.”