By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: January 29, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – Prince George Electric Cooperative is one of a number of entities who stand to benefit from Governor Ralph Northam’s announcement of millions in state funding being distributed to support broadband expansion is the rural reaches of Virginia.
Last week, the governor announced PGEC was among a dozen organizations and localities selected to receive a share of $18.3 million in grant funds from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, known as VATI, which provides targeted funding to extend service to areas that are presently unserved by any broadband provider as part of a state-funded program administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
“Broadband is a necessity for communities to attract business, for students to use educational resources, and for Virginians to receive healthcare through telemedicine,” Northam said last week during his stop in Charles City County, which received the largest allocation from the VATI grants, $3.9 million. “My administration is committed to expanding broadband access to every part of Virginia, so that all of our citizens have access to the opportunities that connectivity make possible.”
Prince George Electric Cooperative received the third-most funding of the 12 projects supported through VATI grants, $2.25 million, which will support the cooperative’s ongoing expansion into Surry County.
According to the governor’s office, nearly 40 applications from 34 localities were submitted totaling $43.6 million, with successful projects that provide “last-mile,” or the connection from the broadband infrastructure to a consumer, being selected through a competitive process evaluating each project for demonstrated need and benefit for the community, applicant readiness and capacity, and the cost and leverage of the proposed project. The level of funding awarded to each project was based on the infrastructure needs in the project areas.
“VATI is a key resource we are utilizing to expand broadband access to all Virginians,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “This funding will contribute significantly to the number of residents across the Commonwealth that are able to live and work more efficiently thanks to broadband connectivity.”
Last Wednesday, leaders at Prince George Electric and in Richmond at the General Assembly were pleased to see the cooperative and Surry get funding that will aid in delivering high-speed internet to the largely rural community.
“PGEC has been at the forefront of the broadband initiative,” PGEC board chairman Paul Brown shared. “We are very pleased Governor Northam has made broadband a priority in his administration, and Virginians will reap the rewards of this investment for years to come.”
Those sentiments were echoed by PGEC CEO Casey Logan, who has worked closely on the cooperative’s broadband internet project since it started in 2016 as a pilot project along West Quaker Road in Prince George County.
“PGEC’s revolutionary high-speed internet has been exceedingly well received throughout our service territory, we’ve been able to witness firsthand how broadband internet access can help to improve our rural communities.”
Additionally, Del. Emily Brewer (R-64), who has been engaged with PGEC closely during her time as state delegate in regards to broadband expansion in her district, was pleased to see Surry County and the cooperative to be selected through the VATI program.
“The announcement of broadband expansion is very exciting news for the citizens of Surry County,” she said last week. “Since I was appointed to the Broadband Advisory Council, it has been my mission to secure funding for our region. Students, families, and small businesses deserve quality access to broadband services.”
The last six months have been highlighted by success and milestones reached by Prince George Electric Cooperative and delivery of its Ruralband high-speed internet product. Last summer, the cooperative announced they had reached the 500-new connections threshold outlined in their $1 million contract with Prince George and the county’s IDA two years ahead of the July 2021 deadline.
In July of last year, PGEC connected its first Sussex customers to Ruralband after receiving funding from the Virginia Tobacco Commission in 2018 to support expansion in the county.
That same month, they also received a $15.4 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission as part of over a half-billion dollars in Federal funds to aid in rural broadband expansion across America. That funding is slated to be largely used for projects in Surry and Sussex Counties, along with a smaller set of locations in Prince George and Dinwiddie.
In addition, earlier this month, PGEC brought its first large enterprise customer in Service Center Metals in Prince George County online with Ruralband.
In an interview, PGEC Vice President of Communications and Government Affairs Renee Chapline said the VATI funding from the state will allow the cooperative to continue the full buildout of their network infrastructure in Surry County. In August of 2018, the county and PGEC entered into an agreement where Surry provided $500,000 to the cooperative to support its fiber-to-the-home project in the county, according to county documents.
“Citizens can rest assured that this is going to happen they are going to have access to Ruralband, our gigabit high-speed internet product and I think they are going to be very pleased,” she said.
Dating back to 2017, PGEC has actively pursued support from governments to help support the initial work on their expansion efforts, with Prince George being the first locality to make a partnership with the cooperative, with PGEC needing to bring 500 new customers online as part of a $1 million grant, which they reportedly completed as of last summer.
While they praise local leaders of their support of the project financially, Chapline said encouraging state and federal government entities to aid rural broadband expansion is critical to efforts to bring internet to rural America.
“You have to remember, if this was a highly profitable venture, we have a lot of for-profit companies that are in the business of broadband but, with the population and the lack of density in rural community, it has not been a profitable project many of these companies to come in and provide services in these areas, and certainly, not fiber-to-the-home,” she said, as fiber drops directly to the homes and businesses of users are seen as the gold standard of high-speed internet delivery.
“The government, by subsidizing this, giving the opportunity to partner with the local government, along with the cooperatives, it allows for a better end-product and makes it possible for rural America to have access to this wonderful new utility that has been enjoyed in urban areas, ranging from education, to telemedicine, and communication, in general,” Chapline continued. “It will enhance the quality of life for the citizens that live in the rural area.”
As their work continues, the cooperative has updated their website with a regional fiber map that shows the zones in which they expect to offer high-speed internet during 2020 across Prince George, Sussex, and Surry Counties. According to PGEC, dividing their service territory into zones will help their effectively manage the project’s scope.
To learn more about the ongoing Ruralband project and to see the cooperative’s latest fiber map, visit their website at http://ruralband.coop/fiber-map. From there you can see Ruralband’s planned buildout for 2020, along with some frequently asked questions and other information.
Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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