Photo of Lauren Mathena courtesy Invest Southern Virginia
November 19, 2020 – While the business case for rural broadband has been debated, panelists at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s monthly webinar on Wednesday concluded that rural broadband enhances local economies.
Mid-Atlantic Broadband was able to establish an open access network that has supported the flourishing of many other industries, explained Lauren Mathena, director of economic development for Mid-Atlantic Broadband.
Because of this network, Microsoft was able to build a data center in southern Virginia that has invested substantially in the community, including the establishment of a data center academy that the software company has used as a model for countless others across the world.
Hardide, a British top content provider, was also able to connect their headquarters in the UK to their Virginia plant remotely through Mid-Atlantic’s network.
Screenshot from the webinar
The network has supported business parks and health companies, as well as encouraged partnerships with local electric coops and Commonwealth Connect, Virginia’s broadband coalition.
Indraneel Kumar, principal regional planner at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, found that rural broadband firms created and supported more than 77,000 jobs across different industries in 2017. In a study called “Job Creation from Rural Broadband Companies,” he and his colleagues concluded that rural broadband companies were significant economic drivers in their communities. For every job created in broadband led to almost two additional jobs were created in the economy.
All important aspects of community life are supported by broadband
Joshua Seidemann, vice president of policy for rural broadband association NTCA, said that all the important aspects of a community—jobs, education, and access to good healthcare— could all be supported by broadband.
Jobs that had a telework component during the pandemic lost just half a percent of employees, versus 2.7 percent for non-telework jobs.
A school in Kansas was able to help students take a virtual fieldtrip to Yellowstone National Park using the school’s gigabit connection provided by Golden Belt Telephone association.
An NTCA’s paper on “Anticipating Economic Returns of Rural Telehealth,” published as part of the association’s smart rural community program, found rural telehealth could save an average of $30,000 per year. That’s from lost wages for travel expenses that would otherwise have been incurred when rural residents had to travel to the facilities.
He also said that rural telehealth has increased the local laboratory and pharmacy revenues, ranging from $12,000 to $45,000 annually.
He concluded with the example of a medical center in South Carolina that through telepsychiatry has been able to reduce the average stay of patients from 36 hours to 4 hours. “Imagine the cost savings,” he said.
As we celebrate the third year of Microsoft’s TechSpark program, we’re focused on bringing digital skilling opportunities to our local communities—and for us in Southern Virginia—we’re thrilled about the doors that are opening for our residents and organizations.
At a time when a record number of Americans are working from home across the U.S., most rural residents lack vital digital skills that can unlock opportunities in the new digital economy. In such an important time in history, we chose to partner with gener8tor and the SOVA Innovation Hub to bring an upskilling opportunity to the residents of Southern Virginia that will position them to compete for advanced jobs regionally, as well as nationally. Economic development has always been tougher for rural communities, and the current pandemic has made things even more challenging. This new skilling opportunity will allow our lifelong residents to remain in the region while securing gainful employment.
TechSpark Southern Virginia chose to partner with gener8tor and the SOVA Innovation Hub to offer a free, virtual, self-paced program aimed at enhancing participants’ skills in customer service and/or sales. We received more than 150 applications from across Virginia during the short application window, and ultimately selected 35 participants from the Southern Virginia TechSpark region who began the five-week program on October 19th.
Our partner at the SOVA Innovation Hub, Lauren Mathena, Director of Economic Development and Community Engagement for Mid-Atlantic Broadband, had the following to say about our work together on the initiative:
“We are excited to be working with gener8tor and Microsoft to bring this opportunity to the citizens of Southern Virginia. The goal of the SOVA Innovation Hub is to inspire people to pursue digital careers and entrepreneurship, and the skills taught in this program are critical to success in these fields. COVID-19 has made us even more aware of the importance of technology for the future of work. The gener8tor Upskilling program is providing people in Southern Virginia with enhanced digital skills to advance their careers and improve their lives.”
Skilling for the new digital economy will be invaluable for our rural communities, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is how one of the participants, Emily J., summed up her experiences to date:
“Having the guidance and support this program has provided is invaluable. Working one on one with a career coach and working through LinkedIn Learning modules has helped me see and pursue more career options for growth I wouldn’t have otherwise. I believe the opportunities this program provides will help change the employment landscape of Southern Virginia that much faster.”
As we head into the winter holidays, finding and keeping a job with a living wage will be increasingly important to so many families. If you’re in the Southern Virginia area and would like to get involved and start your upskilling journey, visit our website gener8tor upskilling and be sure to take a look at Microsoft’s global skilling initiative as a first step. You’ll be glad you did!
TechSpark Spotlight: Through the TechSpark program, Microsoft partners with communities to understand their unique regional challenges and to explore solutions, programs, and partnerships that will be most effective locally. This first-hand account is part of the Microsoft TechSpark Spotlight series that shines a light on each community we serve.
MBC HOSTS SENATOR MARK WARNER TO DISCUSS BROADBAND EXPANSION
On Wednesday, October 28, 2020, Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC) hosted U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to discuss MBC’s 1,900-mile fiber optic network, plans for expansion, and other economic development programs MBC is involved with in the Southern Virginia region. “If there is one thing we’ve all learned from COVID, it is that broadband connectivity is not a ‘nice to have’, it is an absolute necessity,” said Senator Warner.
Senator Mark Warner visits South Boston. (Photo Credit: WSET)
When MBC was formed in 2004, Warner (then Governor of Virginia) helped MBC negotiate a unique public-private partnership resource sharing agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) that allowed MBC use of state-owned rights of way in exchange for installing fiber along those routes. A year later, in 2005, Warner helped kick off construction in Appomattox County and signed a map showing the first proposed routes of the MBC network.
Tad Deriso, President and CEO of MBC, described how, after the initial years of grant funding for capital investments from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, MBC has operated in a financially sustainable manner. One of MBC’s key growth strategies is to expand network reach through mutually beneficial partnerships with local, regional, and national Internet Service Providers, content providers, and other fiber optic network operators.
Deriso also discussed how the MBC network is enabling last-mile connections to the home through partnering on projects like Microsoft Electric Cooperative’s EMPOWER network and Central Virginia Services’ Firefly Broadband. Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson, P.E., who was also in attendance at the meeting, shared that MBC’s network has been vital component of last-mile expansion in Halifax County.
MBC also updated Senator Warner on the SOVA Innovation Hub, a 501(c)3 non-profit created in early 2020 with investments from MBC and Microsoft TechSpark. Lauren Mathena, Director of Economic Development and Community Engagement for MBC explained that Southern Virginia is one of seven regions in North America selected to participate in TechSpark, a Microsoft civic program that fosters job creation and economic opportunity.
Mathena described how the SOVA Innovation Hub will spark economic transformation in Southern Virginia through its programs, which focus on digital skills and entrepreneurship, and its facility, which is the first new construction in downtown South Boston in over 40 years. Set to open in January 2021, the 15,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility will be the new home of MBC corporate offices and will be the headquarters of TechSpark Southern Virginia. The first floor includes a coworking space, training classroom, and a first-of-its-kind Microsoft Experience Center. The Microsoft Experience Center will be a place to showcase cutting–edge digital applications related to local industries like agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare. Programs will focus on digital skills.
Mathena gave an overview of the variety of programming initiatives in development for the SOVA Innovation Hub, including a partnership with CodeVA, a non-profit with a mission to bring equitable computer science education to Virginia students. Through the SOVA Innovation Hub, CodeVA will create and develop educational programming for the newly formed Computer Science Teachers Association Southern Virginia (CSTA SOVA) Chapter.
Since its founding, MBC has been a proponent of the economic advancement of Southern Virginia. Along with broadband expansion, MBC’s mission is to reinvest in the communities it serves.
When Senator Warner signed the map in 2005, MBC was just starting its journey. This visit, Senator Warner signed a map with “Congrats you’ve come a long way!” – a map that shows the now nearly 2,000 miles of MBC open-access middle mile fiber network that is making critical connections throughout Southern Virginia.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 25, 2020
gener8tor, SOVA Innovation Hub and Microsoft Announce Job Skills Training Efforts in Southern Virginia
Alliance Uses Cohort Model to Offer Job Seekers Training, Support and Placement
SOUTH BOSTON, VIRGINIA – gener8tor, SOVA Innovation Hub, and Microsoft today announced an effort to launch gener8tor Upskilling, a free training program to help Southern Virginia residents get critical digital skills for in-demand jobs. The program will kick off its first, virtual class on Oct. 19, 2020.
gener8tor Upskilling Southern Virginia will be open to all Southern Virginia residents seeking to develop new skills or enhance existing skills in Customer Service or Sales.
This five-week, cohort-based program will include:
- Self-paced virtual curriculum from Microsoft and LinkedIn to learn skills for in-demand Customer Service or Sales roles, and earn certifications and badges;
- One-on-one concierge support from the gener8tor team on the skills content, plus coaching on interview skills and resume, LinkedIn profile and cover letter writing;
- Virtual access to a network of peers who can support each other and form a community;
- And opportunities to interview with companies ready to hire candidates with these skills.
At the end of the five-week program, participants will have the ability to leverage the resources of these organizations to access a job in their community or at national companies hiring for virtual jobs.
“The pandemic has forced us to look at the widening digital divide in our community. Through Microsoft TechSpark, we are committed to helping people gain the skills they need in order to move into available jobs within the digital era,” said Jeremy Satterfield, Manager of TechSpark Southern Virginia at Microsoft.
“gener8tor is focused on helping communities invest in themselves in projects just like this,” said Joe Kirgues, Co-founder and Partner at gener8tor. “We are excited to partner with the SOVA Innovation Hub and Microsoft to help people learn new digital skills and get the experience they need to succeed in jobs with local and national employers.”
“We are excited to be working with gener8tor and Microsoft to bring this opportunity to the citizens of Southern Virginia,” said Lauren Mathena, Director of Economic Development and Community Engagement for Mid-Atlantic Broadband and SOVA Innovation Hub. “The goal of the SOVA Innovation Hub is to inspire people to pursue digital careers and entrepreneurship, and the skills taught in this program are critical to success in these fields.”
Microsoft recently announced its global skilling initiative, which seeks to help 25 million people worldwide whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19 gain new skills by the end of the calendar year. Nationally ranked startup accelerator gener8tor will leverage its proven accelerator playbook, which provides individualized mentorship and coaching to startups across the country, to help individuals get upskilled.
For more information on how to participate, visit gener8torupskilling.com/southern-virginia.
gener8tor’s turnkey platform for the creative economy connects startup founders, musicians, artists, individuals, investors, universities and corporations. The gener8tor platform includes pre-accelerators, accelerators, corporate programming, conferences and fellowships.
About SOVA Innovation Hub
The SOVA Innovation Hub is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization created by Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC) and Microsoft to spark economic transformation in Southern Virginia. By bringing together business and education partners to offer innovative programs, the goal of the Hub is to inspire people in Southern Virginia to pursue digital careers and entrepreneurship. The new, state-of-the-art SOVA Innovation Hub facility in South Boston, Virginia includes a coworking space, a training space, and the Microsoft Experience Center.
Tad Deriso, MBC’s President and CEO, was named to the Virginia Business Top 500 – The 2020 Power List, recognizing him as one of Virginia’s top business leaders!
View Tad’s Top 500 profile here.
View the Top 500 – The 2020 Power List here.
View this story as it originally appeared on wset.com here.
Innovation Hub in South Boston expected to bring revenue into community
MBC and QTS Data Centers Announce Successful Implementation of Alien Wave Technology connecting QTS Richmond NAP to Ashburn, Virginia
June 18, 2020 (South Boston, Virginia). Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) and QTS Realty Trust (NYSE: QTS), a leading provider of hybrid colocation and mega scale data center solutions, today announced the successful implementation of an initial field trial that demonstrated 200 gigabits per second coherent transmission over a 50 gigahertz (GHz) channel on an existing MBC long-haul route. The field trial showcased MBC’s ability to easily and cost-effectively scale its current wholesale optical transport network to meet growing capacity demands and route diversity requirements at the QTS Richmond NAP.
The new capacity uses MBC’s latest line system technology, providing multiple 200G alien wavelength transmission. MBC’s open-access network approach allowed a different optical vendor to utilize MBC’s existing line system, thus maximizing options and providing more granular control for native and alien waves. The field trial showcased the ability of MBC and QTS to work together, even during a pandemic, to scale a solution to meet immediate demand and diversity requirements.
“With the explosive growth in data traffic related to increased wholesale capacity needs during the global pandemic, optical network flexibility and scalability remain critical to our ability to be responsive to our customers’ evolving communications needs,” said Tad Deriso, President & CEO of MBC. “We remain committed to advancing our fiber infrastructure with cutting-edge technologies to keep pace with growing capacity demands and allow us to expand connectivity for our customers.”
“QTS is very pleased to utilize the creative solution proposed by MBC that met strict engineering requirements around performance and diversity” said Sean Baillie, EVP Connectivity Strategy at QTS. “We are confident this solution meets our current demand and is scalable to allow us to meet the robust connectivity demands of our customers.”
Turning up new capacity between QTS Richmond NAP and Ashburn, Virginia provides additional capacity and route diversity for carriers and internet service providers in southern Virginia as well as subsea fiber optic cable routes that land in Virginia Beach and interconnect at the QTS Richmond NAP.
Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) is committed to providing economic development leadership to Southern Virginia by operating a 1,900-route mile open-access fiber optic network. MBC provides wholesale telecommunications transport, dark fiber and colocation services to carriers and content providers. With presence in major internet peering exchange points in Ashburn, Richmond and Atlanta, MBC reduces the cost of Internet access for wholesale customers and reduces the time and cost to reach customers in rural Virginia markets. MBC’s advanced fiber optic network supports job creation as a critical element in the recruitment of major commercial investments across several sectors, including data centers, call center/operations centers, advanced manufacturing, research and development, and logistics and distribution. For more information, please visit www.mbc-va.com.
QTS Realty Trust, Inc. (NYSE: QTS) is a leading provider of data center solutions across a diverse footprint spanning more than 7 million square feet of owned mega scale data center space within North America and Europe. Through its software-defined technology platform, QTS is able to deliver secure, compliant infrastructure solutions, robust connectivity and premium customer service to leading hyperscale technology companies, enterprises, and government entities. Visit QTS at www.qtsdatacenters.com, call toll-free 877.QTS.DATA or follow on Twitter @DataCenters_QTS.
MBC Media Contact
QTS Media Contact:
Carter B. Cromley
On December 10, 2019, Telxius held an event in Northern Virginia to celebrate the opening of their new office in Tysons Corner. Tad Deriso, MBC President and CEO, was part of a panel at the event on the Internet Ecosystem and Fiber Connectivity.
The race to increase data center capacity in a Henrico County tech park appears to be escalating as a long-time tenant prepares to triple its footprint.
QTS Data Centers is planning an expansion on 210 acres it owns in the White Oak Technology Park at 6020 Technology Blvd. in the county’s Sandston area.
The proposed project, which was submitted to the county’s planning division this month, would involve construction of about 1.2 million square feet of new data center space to rise between QTS’ existing 1.3 million-square-foot campus to the west and the Facebook data center site under construction to the east, according to submitted site plans.
Plans call for three 330,000-square-foot data center buildings, and a 165,000-square-foot data facility.
In addition to QTS’ eastern expansion on its campus, the company also updated its plans for another development, now dubbed “Project Isaac,” that’s set to rise on about 73 acres south of its campus along Portugee Road.
The firm originally submitted preliminary plans for that project in March to build a 710,000-square-foot data center building on county-owned property.
While the 710,000-square-foot building remains part of the plans, a second 355,000-square-foot data center building has been added to the mix, according to submitted site plans, bringing the total amount of new data center development assigned to Project Isaac to 1.1 million square feet.
Between its eastern campus expansion and Project Isaac, QTS is set to deliver about 2.3 million square feet of new data center space to the area, planning documents show.
The two QTS projects, while separate, are being fast-tracked by county planners.
Once completed, QTS will own and operate about 3.6 million square feet of data center space in the White Oak Technology Park, becoming its largest data center tenant.
QTS’ neighbor, Facebook, will have 2.4 million square feet of data center space once it completes a $750 million expansion of three 450,000-square-foot buildings on its 172-acre campus in late 2020.
Facebook recently completed the first phase – two buildings totaling 970,000 square feet – that opened in the first half of 2019.
Kevin Snead, QTS Richmond site director, did not immediately respond to a call for comment Monday afternoon. Anthony Romanello, Henrico County Economic Development Authority executive director, forwarded a request for comment about the two projects to QTS.
QTS is a publicly traded data center operator that owns and maintains several facilities across North America and Europe, and one in Hong Kong.
QTS’s Richmond facility is one of nine mega data centers the company operates in the country, including one in Chicago and two each in Atlanta, New Jersey and Texas. The company’s data center footprint spans nine states and three continents, with centers in Amsterdam, London and Hong Kong.
Highly secured, the complex employs about 300 security cameras that monitor the property 24-7. QTS contracts with security company Allied Universal Security for those and other services. The facility is highly automated, requiring only about 30 employees across sales and operations to be on site at any given time.
Previously used as a semiconductor plant for manufacturing computer chips, the facility now is used to store data center capacity for large financial institutions, banks, and multiple federal and regional government agencies. The company’s White Oak Technology campus caters to federal government entities, according to its website.
It also serves as a connection hub for two subsea cables, called MAREA and BRUSA, that provide enhanced international connectivity via the Virginia Beach Cable Landing Station, where the cables connecting data centers in South America and Europe come ashore.
Called the QTS Richmond Network Access Point, the hub provides connections to what the company describes as “the lowest latency and highest capacity ever deployed between continents.”
The technology is said to provide the fastest internet speeds ever, capable of transmitting all the world’s movies across the Atlantic Ocean in 42 seconds, Romanello said during a tour of the facility in June.
“We’re talking about billions and billions of bits of data that are getting moved, where even a microsecond could give somebody an advantage,” he said. “Imagine if you’re a day trader, where that fraction of a second makes a difference.”
Data center surge
Romanello and others have been making an effort in recent months to get the word out about QTS Richmond as an alternative to Ashburn and other data center hubs for businesses seeking international high-speed internet connections.
Earlier this year, QTS hosted an inaugural summit that attracted local and regional government leaders and speakers from Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Telxius.
The overseas cables’ arrival over the past two years have helped fuel a surge in data center development in the region, coupled with lowered state and local tax rates to help attract such facilities.
The state offers a sales and use tax exemption specific to data centers, and in 2017, Henrico County approved an 88 percent reduction in its business personal property tax on data centers. Earlier this year, Chesterfield County lowered its data center tax rate to be the lowest in the state.
Romanello said such reductions, combined with Virginia’s power rate structure and Henrico’s available infrastructure, attracted the cables – driven in large part by Facebook and Microsoft – to be located here. He also credited Henrico’s investment in White Oak and the QTS site, where Infineon Technologies and later Qimonda operated before the semiconductor closed abruptly 10 years ago.
“It goes back to having a great partner in QTS – the fact that the county took over this property over 20 years ago, put $44 million into the infrastructure for roads, water and sewer. The fiber followed that,” Romanello said. “You’ve got this public-private partnership that has facilitated QTS and their investment, Facebook, and all the others that are here and that are going to be coming.”
Twyla Powell, Henrico EDA’s business attraction manager, said the cable connection makes the region an attractive alternative, particularly to international companies seeking high-speed connections with their headquarters overseas, without having to be routed through Ashburn, New York and other, busier hubs.
“It’s giving the network more options of places to go, where the traffic can be routed more efficiently and with a different path,” Powell said this summer. “Speed and latency are two key things, but also having multiple paths keeps the internet more available overall. If you can’t get into the country from New York, you can get in from Richmond. That’s all really good for the whole state.”
Powell said the hub also provides benefits to regional businesses and internet users.
“In Southside Virginia, all those people that use Mid-Atlantic Broadband, there’s a connection for Mid-Atlantic Broadband to this map,” she said. “So all those people served in the Southside of Virginia will have access to these higher-speed networks without having to travel up to Ashburn, which is the busiest internet place in the world, when all they might need is to just come to Richmond.”
BizSense reporter Jonathan Spiers contributed to this story.
To view this article as it originally appeared on the News & Record (SoVaNow.com) website, please click here.
Fiber-to-the-home gains toehold in county
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative has completed the initial stage of fiber-to-the-home internet service in Halifax County with the deployment of roughly 5.5 miles of fiber optic cable in the Clays Mill and Crystal Hill areas.
The Chase City-based cooperative, through its EMPOWER subsidiary, will soon complete a 23-mile stretch of fiber network in Halifax County, encompassing the 5.5 mile portion that has been deployed, plus an additional segment extending north on L.P. Bailey Highway and west in the vicinity of Republican Grove, on Pumping Hill Road.
Through the project, EMPOWER will soon be able to offer ultra-fast broadband internet service to an estimated 479 county homes and businesses.
“We’re continuing to build it out,” said David Lipscomb, MEC vice president of member and energy services. While more work lies ahead before the system can be activated, Lipscomb said EMPOWER will be notifying residents on the path of the fiber network that service will soon be available, and customer requests will be solicited in the next several weeks.
“Once they [technicians] light the fiber up, we can begin taking applications from the folks who live along that line for lines to their homes,” Lipscomb said.
MEC is running fiber optic cable, considered the fastest and most robust mode of internet transmission, to its electrical substations, office sites and other infrastructure in the cooperative’s six-county southern Virginia service area from Greensville to Pittsylvania counties. The cooperative’s for-profit EMPOWER subsidiary will provide retail packages to homes and businesses that lie within 1,000 feet of the “middle mile” network that links up MEC’s installations.
EMPOWER, which currently has about 60 retail customers in Mecklenburg and Charlotte counties, is offering home and business packages of varying speeds, ranging from 50 megabytes per second (Mbps) all the way up to 300 gigabytes for large industrial and business users.
The monthly rate for a base package of 50 Mbps is $69.95, said Lipscomb, while 1 gigabyte service for business and heavy household use is available for $299.00 monthly. In testing the service, the 50 Mbps speed proved to be plenty capable of handling the needs of most households, he said.
“We were able to run five TVs, streaming video, a computer, a laptop and a ring doorbell [with video feed] and everything worked flawlessly,” he said. “It stood up to the test of what was going on and took care of business without any problems. So we were excited about that.”
The already-deployed portion of the network runs from Clays Mill Elementary up Clays Mill Road to MEC’s Crystal Hill substation on Crystal Hill Road (Route 610.) In coming weeks, the middle-mile fiber backbone will be extended north along L.P. Bailey Highway (Route 501) and out towards MEC’s Hickory Grove substation on Pumping Hill Road (Route 667). The network also will run along Bradley Creek Road.
“We’re looking at getting service to those areas in the latter part of this year or the early part of next year,” said Lipscomb.
MEC’s first-stage rollout comes as Halifax County’s other plans to provide broadband service to the countryside have run into delays. Members of the Board of Supervisors have expressed displeasure with the slow pace of wireless broadband expansion by the county’s private sector partner, SCS Broadband, based in Nelson County. County Administrator Scott Simpson has since suggested that the county should engage Dominion Virginia Power to see if the utility will establish a pilot project in Halifax along the lines of what MEC is doing.
“We’ve had conversations with them on broadband projects,” said Simpson. Dominion has existing fiber links between its substations in Halifax County, but only recently has the option opened up for Dominion to become a middle-mile network provider — leasing its fiber cable to third-party internet service providers (ISPs.) This potential business model for Dominion is the result of legislation enacted this year.
The MEC/EMPOWER roll-out in Halifax County is funded in part by a $2.6 million grant from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, also known as the Virginia Tobacco Commission. The tobacco grant provides matching funds for MEC’s investment in its network.
To carry out its plans, MEC tapped into the fiber backbone maintained by Mid-Atlantic Broadband. MBC’s backbone runs out to Clays Mill Elementary, and MEC builds out its lines from there.
“The deployment of high-speed internet is certainly a high priority for the Commission, and over the last decade we have made a considerable investment in middle mile fiber deployment through Mid-Atlantic Broadband,” said Ed Owens, one of Halifax County’s representatives on the tobacco commission.
In a statement released by MEC, Owens praised the cooperative for its investment in fiber-to-the-home service: “To deploy this long-awaited last mile segment of fiber to the doorstep of our students and businesses is a considerable and costly challenge … but Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative has stepped up to take it on and make a difference in our county’s quality of life.”
In the coming year, MEC expects to begin extending fiber optic cable — either buried underground and strung from power poles — to homes and businesses in five other areas of Halifax County: northwest Halifax County around Nathalie, lower Liberty, Meadville to Route 57 (Chatham Road), Omega to Virgilina and areas north of Crystal Hill. Once complete, the network will offer high-speed internet access to an additional 2,215 potential customers.
In tandem with Halifax County, MEC/EMPOWER has applied for $1 million in grant funding from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) to pay for extending fiber cable to the five areas. VATI is a program administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. A decision on the grant request is expected by late December.
MEC is planning to invest $2.9 million of its own money in the five-area project, for a total cost of roughly $4 million.
One source of funding for the cooperative’s plan is USDA Rural Development, which recently awarded a $3.8 million loan to the cooperative to build fiber network infrastructure in southern Brunswick County. The payback period on that loan is 23 years at very low interest, said Lipscomb.
“It makes it easier to do, where the business case [for repaying the loan] works out quite well” using revenue generated from future customer growth, said Lipscomb.
MEC’s grand design is to deploy 135 miles of fiber optic cable in Pittsylvania, Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Brunswick and Greensville counties, offering ultra-high speed service to thousands of homes and businesses within 1,000 feet of the lines. While the project remains in the early stages, Lipscomb said MEC/EMPOWER plans to have the entire network completed by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.
He said the cooperative has lined up funding to move forward with the full project, with MEC members making it plain that the need for high-speed service across the service area is acute.
“We’re a co-op. Our members have told us ‘we need some help,’ and when your members talk, you listen,” said Lipscomb.