Central Virginia Electric Cooperative Plans Fiber Across Service Area

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) has created a five-year plan to deploy a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network to premises within its distribution area. CVEC will begin with a one-year pilot program within a limited region in order to test and prepare for the wider initiative.

More Than Internet Access

CVEC’s plan for the new fiber infrastructure will include more efficient electrical operations across its entire distribution system. CVEC plans to install approximately 4,600 miles of distribution lines and offer services to all of its 36,000 members through a subsidiary. Because so many of its members live in rural areas, they don’t have access to high-quality Internet services. CVEC serves Albermarle County and portions of 13 other surrounding counties.

"CVEC believes that access to reliable, high-speed Internet today is becoming as important as access to electricity in 1937," said CEO Gary Wood. "Give the great need for connectivity, CVEC will leverage its fiber network to provide a broadband Internet solution that will serve the community now and for the future."

One look at the comments on the CVEC Facebook page reinforces the claim that CVEC’s members lack access to high-quality Internet service: 

“You’re lucky to have DSL.” 

“No Internet or cell service just two miles from the interstate has gotten old old old fast fast fast.” 

“With an Internet bill over several hundred dollars a month for relatively crappy service, I will happily spend my money with someone who actually cares!”

“Shut up and take my money.”

Another Go At Access

Other plans to bring Internet access to members have fallen through. At a recent meeting that included the Albermarle County Broadband Authority and the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee, Wood described two other failed attempts by CVEC that depended on partnerships with other entities. One involved delivering broadband over power lines and the other ended in an inability for the cooperative and its partner ISP to reach an agreement.

A 2017 feasibility study suggested the cooperative could invest in the project and, based on a 35 percent take rate, break even in 11 years. CVEC estimates the investment in Albermarle County will be about $11 million with the cost for the entire project to be between $100 million and $110 million.

CVEC is asking counties in the service area to provide economic development support, including grants equal to up to the first five years of taxes on the new investment in their counties. CVEC has asked Albermarle County for support in the amount of $2.2 million. The cooperative will also seek funding from other agencies, including federal and state government; their goal is to obtain 20 percent of the costs from these outside sources.

Albermarle County officials and leaders from other counties are still considering CVEC’s proposal to contribute to the cost of the deployment, but the cooperative plans to move ahead. On it’s Facebook page, the co-op writes that they anticipate announcing the pilot area mid-year and expect construction to begin this fall.

Creating Competition

Many of the members CVEC serve now have no Internet access or use dial-up, but in some of the more densely populated areas the cooperative will compete with CenturyLink and Comcast. Locals welcome the competition to improve options and to lower prices. “Where do we sign up?” asked a resident at the meeting to discuss the proposal.

CVEC plans to offer a basic service at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $49.99 per month and will likely offer gigabit connectivity for $79.99 per month. While there’s no word yet on whether or not the service would be symmetrical, cooperatives are more likely than large national competitors to skimp on upload speeds. Wood told the attendees at the meeting that CVEC plans to also offer voice service via the fiber for $29.99 per month.

“We’re not going in this to create a lot of money; we’re doing it because we know there’s a lack of service in our area ... and because it helps us get that fiber built out that we can use to improve your electric service, as well,” Wood said.