PG Electric Coop. begins broadband pilot program

By Michael Campbell – News Editor

Following its mantra of providing services to those who need it, Prince George Electric Cooperative is launching a test program in the county that provides Internet services to customers.

Officials with PGEC announced the program last month, noting that the initial test case will serve around 75 homes and public buildings along West Quaker Road between U.S. Route 460 and State Route 156.

“In America, 34 million people lack access to high-speed Internet service,” the cooperative said during a presentation to the board of supervisors. “23 million of which are living in rural America, approximately 40 percent of our demographic.”

According to PGEC, nearly one million people in the Commonwealth lack access to high-speed Internet services, with 20 percent of residents in Prince George, roughly 7,500 residents, are lacking access to broadband.

The company notes that the current options in the county, wireless Internet services, presents its own challenges for customers, mainly with speeds and data caps that could lead to overage charges.

“As an electric cooperative, we were formed to serve rural areas,” remarked PGEC Vice President of Engineering Casey Logan. “We looked at that same model when it came to broadband. We live in an area in Virginia that is grossly underserved with high-speed Internet access.”

Many customers in the county’s rural communities utilize wireless services from companies such as HughesNet, Dish Network and Excede, which can only provide speeds from 5 Mbps to 15 Mbps.

Through PGEC’s test program, customers who are taking part will have access to 30 Mbps for each installation, with no data use restrictions, for $75 per month, with an additional $7 per month for lease of a router from the company.

That higher speed will allow for customers to enjoy more web-based content consumption, such as Netflix, which requires 5 Mbps to stream movies and other data-intensive web services.

“We have a need from members out there on our system and we wanted to help them out,” Logan remarked. “We want to take it that last mile where some of the other guys do not want to take it and see if it makes sense.”

For PGEC, providing Internet for its members isn’t just a business move, it’s about enhancing the community on a residential and business level.

“Internet is the new encyclopedia,” officials said during their presentation, noting that access to high-speed Internet can play a key role in homework and assignment management and help spark more parental involvement in their children’s work and school.

In addition, PGEC officials noted that upgrading emergency service buildings and county institution would provide additional value to the community and spark further economic development in Prince George.

According to Logan, response to the new service has been positive and he’s had plenty of residents ask when they can get access to the new service, but the company is taking this new project one step at a time.

“We are trying to temper our expectations,” Logan explained. “We are doing this test case and we have to see what plays out.”

PGEC expects the test case to be finished and installed by the end of year, with evaluations as to the success of the test case being made by early to mid-2017. Following that evaluation, officials will be able to make appropriate decisions.

“Let’s get about six months worth of data, take a look at it and evaluate it to see where we are and then maybe where we can go in the future,” Logan said.

Those with questions can call Prince George Electric Cooperative at 804-834-2424 to learn more about the pilot program.

Copyright 2016 by Womack Publications

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