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Merit Network’s commitment to schools stayed strong in 2021

Michigan’s Merit Network saw a return to its research and education roots in 2021. Implications of the digital divide, increased bandwidth needs, evolving security concerns, and a challenging cybersecurity talent pipeline were exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Merit’s relationship with local communities, strong public-private partnerships, and a dedication to innovation helped support multiple connectivity and security initiatives for its K-12 educational partners.Connectivity upgrades at the state and local levels helped schools provide fast, affordable, and secure broadband Internet. Last year, an upgrade to the Michigan State Education Network began with expected completion this year. To increase resiliency, the network saw the addition of two new headend sites, the creation of 40G metro ethernet delivery, and the addition of several 100G links to the network core.

At the local level, thanks to a collaboration between Detroit Public Schools Community District, Crown Castle and Merit Network, all 109 schools in the district were connected at 10G and 100G speeds, respectively. This new fiber ring was completed last October, providing each school with state-of-the-art broadband and creating opportunities for greater access, speed, and reliability.
The cities of Detroit, Inkster and Flint, along with Washtenaw County, benefitted from expanded free Wi-Fi access at more than 50 community locations across Southeast Michigan through the Community Access Network Project. Detroit and Flint have the highest number of households in the state without Internet access. In addition, 57 percent of K-12 students in Washtenaw County do not have high speed Wi-Fi access at home. The expansion improved Internet access for these communities and their students, allowing them to live, learn, and work better.

Merit’s Information Security Team worked over the past year to grow cybersecurity skills and awareness in K-12 environments. “The Seven-Layer Cybersecurity Burrito” workshop was developed to increase knowledge of the threat and impact that malware and ransomware can have at educational organizations. In addition, a transition to a fully-remote 2021 Annual Governor’s High School Cyber Challenge, a multi-round competition hosted by Merit and the State of Michigan, garnered a record number of participants. The goal of this competition was to expose students to cybersecurity career paths in order to bolster the talent pipeline.

Through a focus on K-12 connectivity and security, Merit has been able to leverage its middle-mile network, federal E-Rate programs, and a strong contingency of community anchor institutions to work to ensure Michigan schools remain connected and secure, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic conditions. Continued support and relationship building will continue to be prioritized in the coming year, with much of that effort devoted to K-12 institutions. Given their critical importance to Michigan’s educational industry as a whole, stronger K-12 organizations will in turn bolster the resiliency and connectivity of the entire ecosystem.

Merit Network, Inc. is an independent non-profit corporation governed by Michigan’s public
universities. Merit owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan’s public universities created Merit as a shared resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance. Since its formation, Merit Network has remained at the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides high-performance networking and IT solutions to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, health care, and other non-profit organizations.