Prince George Electric Cooperative brings more than power to customers

PGEC Internet fiber project moves forward, providing Internet service to members

By Michael Campbell News Editor

PRINCE GEORGE – Steady gains continue to be made in Prince George Electric Cooperative’s pilot project that is bringing high-speed Internet to the homes of their customers, according to officials with the cooperative.

During a presentation last month, PGEC CEO Mike Malandro and Vice President of Engineering Casey Logan told members of the Prince George Board of Supervisors that their first member had Internet service up and running at their home, roughly three months after PGEC first presented their test program to the county, promising by the end of February, over 40 applicants would be connected.

In October, PGEC announced their test program, 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.

During their remarks, Malandro and Logan explained, of those 75 homes, approximately 40 have committed, well above industry standards, with those signing on getting access to speeds up to 30mbps and no data caps on their usage for $75 per month, plus $7 per month to lease 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.

As part of their efforts to connect more of their customers to the Internet, PGEC officials said the cooperative is committing $5 million over the next five years toward installation of a backbone fiber network that will join their substations and enable further distribution of Internet services through their service territory.

“This is something we can brag about,” Logan said. “How PGEC is thee first to take fiber to the home and, the way we are doing it, it might be the first in the nation. This is a big accomplishment and a big deal for our staff.”

At February’s meeting, supervisors remarked that they have already heard excitement from our constituents about the prospect of getting fiber access to the Internet.

“You’re in my neighborhood,” supervisor Jerry Skalsky said. “Everyone is just tickled to death as you’re bringing them into the 20th century in the 21st century.”

As Prince George Electric continues to expand their efforts to bring Internet to the homes of their members, the cooperative has a strong ally fighting in their corner, U.S. Congressman Donald McEachin.

Leading up to his eventual election to Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District seat, McEachin stressed that expanding access to rural broadband was a top priority of his as he heads to Washington, D.C.

“Economic development, education and broadband internet communication are linked together to uplift many of those rural and poor counties,” McEachin said while speaking with the New Journal Guide. “I want to improve this situation and expand rail and other transportation services for these communities.”

Putting those words into action, McEachin visited officials from PGEC last week at their offices in Waverly to discuss how he can help the cooperative in their efforts to address Internet access in rural communities, like Prince George and Sussex.

During that meeting, PGEC officials told McEachin they are awaiting word from Prince George County on if they will receive some funding from the locality that “would help snowball” the further growth and expansion of their Internet efforts.

Additionally, PGEC used their time with the congressman to convey their position on their place in the development and implementation of rural broadband, remarking that it is important for members of the Federal Communications Commission to know that “the co-ops are not the hinderance to rural broadband, we’re the ones trying to help it along,” pointing to pole attachment rates.

In 2016, the FCC announced their new pole attachment rate formula would “bring the ‘telecom rate’ for pole attachments down closer to the ‘cable rate,’” while changing the telecom rate formula to eliminate current distinctions between “urban” and “non-urban” service areas.

“There is some concern that the FCC may put some regulations on all pole attachments, not differentiating between not-for-profit electric companies, like the co-ops, and the investor-run companies,” they remarked.

McEachin promised to bring up the issue during his time in Washington and invited members of PGEC to the nation’s capital to discuss the matter further.

“Cooperatives like PGEC are ideally positioned to expand access in rural communities that traditional service providers may have overlooked,” he said following the meeting. “I am behind PGEC’s effort 110% percent. It’s important for me to continue meeting with the hardworking people at PGEC because when they reach the point where we can provide assistance at the federal level, I want to be well-versed and know exactly what they need from me in Congress.

“Our hardworking families and children who live in underserved areas should be able to stay connected when they go home from work or school,” the congressman continued.

The expansion of broadband Internet services continues to be a conversation piece, both locally and nationally, and remains a key part of the Governor Terry McAuliffe’s “New Virginia Economy” development initiative.

According to a report from the Office of the Virginia Department of Technology, “almost one quarter, 23 percent, which could represent as many as 782,745 homes, of [survey] respondents have no options for fixed Internet access,” with almost half, 48 percent, relying on slow or expensive technologies to carry out critical applications, such as teleworking and distance learning.

In their report, they recommend that the commonwealth “should target state broadband funding to unserved and underserved areas with priority for areas with documented unmet demand,” “formally engage broadband service providers to help identify state and local policies that can be made more favorable for broadband deployment,” and “adopt/encourage state/local Dig Once policy to facilitate further and faster expansion of broadband.”

“Virginia is fortunate to have service providers deploying a mix of technologies including fiber, copper, cable and fixed wireless to deliver fixed Internet access throughout the Commonwealth,” they said. “The Commonwealth must ensure every Virginia citizen, business, school, library, first responder and health care provider has adequate and affordable access to the Internet.”

For McEachin, he said efforts to expand broadband access in rural parts of the local community and nation as a whole are already underway.

“I plan to support legislation at the federal level that will help expand broadband access in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, and in underserved areas across the country,” he stressed. “We need to greatly increase funding; offer communities technical and planning assistance; encourage innovative new models (like public-private partnerships); and ensure that stakeholders are fully aware of existing resources.”

“We have to keep working until the entire district has reliable, high-speed access to the World Wide Web,” McEachin closed.

While PGEC officials said they are looking forward to further expansion of their broadband program to its members, stressing that there are no territorial lines that prevent them from providing services to customers who may get service from other providers, no timetable for additional customers has been released.

Copyright 2017 by Womack Publications

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