Tag: "virginia"

Posted August 21, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

A couple years ago, fed up member-owners of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) in Virginia banded together to form Repower REC, a grassroots group that’s seeking to reform the state’s largest electric cooperative and advocating for clean energy and improved Internet access.

Rural electric co-ops are supposed to embrace the cooperative principles of democratic member control and concern for community, but some of REC’s members charge that the co-op’s practices fall short of those goals.

Repower REC hopes to bring greater transparency and member oversight to the co-op, as well as clean energy programs and a cooperative-owned broadband network.

Cleaning up Governance and the Grid

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative serves 170,000 meters in portions of 22 counties stretching from northern Virginia toward the Chesapeake Bay. It is the largest electric cooperative in Virginia and one of the largest in the country.

REC logo

Member-owners of the co-op launched Repower REC in 2018 in partnership with Solar United Neighbors of Virginia, in response to concerns over undemocratic practices and the lack of transparency at REC. The group has called for a number of reforms, including public board meetings and transparent board elections. People involved in the group have also spoken out against lobbying activities that they believe were not in the best interest of the co-op’s members. Repower REC members have run as candidates for the co-op board of directors, though none have won a seat as of yet.

Some of the initial interest in governance at REC stemmed from member dissatisfaction with the co-op’s lukewarm response to renewable energy as well as the co-op’s attempt to double its fixed access charges....

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Posted August 6, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Cooperatives have been doing a lot over the last few months to advance connectivity efforts around the country. That trend is continuing in Virginia, where Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative (NNEC) have announced partnerships with utility provider Dominion Energy to expand broadband access to thousands living and working in rural areas in the state. 

The two projects represent over nearly $32 million in total investment, with money coming from the counties, the electric cooperatives, the investor-owned utility, and the state. 

Innovative Partnerships 

The first-of-its-kind agreement between PGEC and Dominion Energy was originally announced last February, and aimed at a combined 6,700 residents in Surry County. Dominion will serve as the middle-mile provider, and is already installing fiber as part of upgrades to its grid management. It will lease that fiber to RURALBAND, PGEC’s broadband subsidiary, which will then be responsible for building last-mile connections to homes and businesses and acting as the retail service provider. 2,200 of those receiving Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections will be existing customers of PGEC, with the other 4,500 customers of Dominion. In total, the project is projected to cost between $16 and $18 million. 

“This partnership brings rural Surry County into the modern communications age, bridging a vital utility gap through reliable high-speed broadband services to residents and businesses, essential to Surry’s social and economic prosperity,” said Surry’s Acting County Administrator Melissa Rollins in a press release.

The second project, announced at the end of July, will take place in the Northern Neck region and include King George, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties. Currently, those living on the southern shore of the peninsula are worst off,...

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Posted March 2, 2020 by lgonzalez

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC), has been working on their plan to deploy Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) to members and surrounding premises since 2017. The rural cooperative received a financial boost when they recently received a grant and loan award from the USDA's ReConnect Program.

Welcome Funding for Fiber 

With $28 million - part loan and part grant - CVEC plans to fund the first three years of their project. The USDA funding will allow CVEC to connect more than 17,000 households, six health care centers, 15 educational facilities, and 15 other community facilities. When the entire five-year plan is complete, approximately 37,000 premises will have access to FTTH. 

In Buckingham County, CVEC officials announced the award to about 200 people, including local resident Virginia Jackson. She and her family rely on their mobile phones' hotspots for Internet access, which is unreliable and can be expensive. She and her husband were interested in the project and how it would improve connectivity for them and left "excited to see what the project brings to our community."

Early in the planning process, CVEC sought funding from local governments where they plan to deploy infrastructure. They did obtain support, but still sought grants and loans elsewhere to help pay for construction of the project, which they estimated to cost between $110 and $120 million. CVEC has received grants from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), FCC Connect American Fund, Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC), and a loan from the Rural Utility Service (RUS) for smart grid upgrades. 

The project will include deploying approximately 4,000 miles of fiber optic infrastructure and will touch 14 counties. The co-op will deploy in a range of competitive environments. In some areas, locals have only dial-up, whereas in other communities CenturyLink and Comcast already serve subscribers. Even in places where residents already have one or two options, the ability to connect with fiber...

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Posted February 26, 2020 by lgonzalez

As state lawmakers debate in committee rooms and Capitol chambers around the country, various broadband and Internet network infrastructure bills are appearing on agendas. Some are good news for local communities interested in developing publicly owned networks while other preemption bills make projects more difficult to plan, fund, and execute. We've gathered together some notable bills from several states that merit watching - good, bad, and possibly both.

New Hampshire

For years, local communities were not allowed to bond to develop publicly owned broadband infrastructure in New Hampshire. Last year, the state adopted SB 170, which opened the door a crack so that municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in "unserved" areas. This year, the New Hampshire General Court has the opportunity to push open the door a bit wider with SB 459.

SB 459 allows local communities to potentially define "unserved" areas themselves by putting more responsibility on Internet access providers. Municipalities must currently engage in a request for information process in which they must reach out to all Internet service providers operating in the community. SB 459, if adopted, would allow a community to consider areas "unserved" if a provider does not respond to such a request to clarify which premises are unserved. With the "unserved" designation, municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure to serve those premises.

The bill has bipartisan support and is scheduled for a March 11th hearing in the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee. Read the text of SB 459 here [PDF] and follow its progress here.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, where lawmakers meet all year, Rep. Pam Snyder introduced HB 2055 in late in 2019. The bill allows local governments to provide telecommunications services, but limits them to unserved areas. If passed, the bill amends the Municipalities Authorities Act and,...

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Posted February 19, 2020 by lgonzalez

The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) in Virginia recently announced that they are now ready to begin developing residential Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connections in Roanoke and Botetourt Counties and the cities of Salem and Roanoke.

The Next Logical Step

Since 2016, the open access network has provided services to businesses, public facilities, and community anchor institutions in the region. In 2017, the Authority connected one multi-dwelling unit in the city of Roanoke and began working with a private Internet access company to provide service. Now, the RVBA is determined to connect every premise with high-quality Internet access.

The Roanoke Times reports that:

The process begins with a survey of residents in the Roanoke Valley the municipal broadband authority announced Monday morning. The survey, available on the RVBA website, will help determine where the highest demand for the service is, but with a mind to reach wide areas of the region.

“We’re changing the game,” said RVBA President and CEO Frank Smith. “We’re changing the infrastructure, allowing us to differentiate ourselves across the region and across the country.”

The municipal authority’s mission “has been to be an economic development engine, drive competition, bring more choice in … but also to serve the geographically and economically underserved,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we build in places that make sense economically but make sure we do not ignore those that are economically disadvantaged.”

The RVBA will use survey results to determine where to deploy. Smith anticipates construction to begin this year and expects one provider to be offering service when the residential connections go online, but more Internet service providers to be added as the number of subscribers increases. Multiple ISPs have expressed an interest in delivering residential services...

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Posted January 6, 2020 by lgonzalez

Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

Some highlights from the third edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 110 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members, a number that is growing rapidly from just a handful in 2012.
  • 31.3 percent of the fiber service available in rural areas is provided by rural cooperatives.
  • Personal anecdotes from Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri residents attest to the far-reaching benefits of cooperatives’ expansion into Internet service.
  • new map shows where rural cooperatives are planning to expand fiber Internet service.

Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them.

*We discovered an error in our first release of the December 2019 edition of this report, which we have since corrected. We deeply apologize for the mistake and take this very seriously -- these data are challenging to work with but we are committed to accurately reporting broadband statistics.

The correct statistic is that cooperatives provide 31 percent of all...

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Posted December 17, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

Originally published in 2017, our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era, focuses on cooperatives as a proven model for deploying fiber optic Internet access across the country, especially in rural areas. An update in the spring of 2019 included additional information about the rate at which co-ops are expanding Internet service. Now we’ve updated the report with a new map and personal stories from areas where co-ops have drastically impacted local life.

Download the updated report [PDF] here.

All versions of the report can be accessed from the Reports Archive for this report.

Some highlights from the third edition of Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America include:

  • More than 110 rural electric co-ops have embarked on fiber optic projects to increase Internet access for their members, a number that is growing rapidly from just a handful in 2012.
  • 31.3 percent of the fiber service available in rural areas is provided by rural cooperatives.
  • Personal anecdotes from Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, and Missouri residents attest to the far-reaching benefits of cooperatives’ expansion into Internet service.
  • A new map shows where rural cooperatives are planning to expand fiber Internet service.

Co-ops have proven that this is a model that works. With increased support from federal and state governments, they will continue to connect rural Americans to economic and educational opportunities otherwise denied to them. 

Read Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era [PDF] here.

Posted November 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

In early November, the city of Alexandria, Virginia, began seeking bidders to construct an institutional network to connect city facilities. In addition to developing infrastructure to meet the city administrative needs, Alexandria wants to bring local schools, public safety, and its Smart City Mobility transportation efforts together on a publicly owned fiber optic system.

According to the city's website:

In addition to improving connectivity among City facilities and sites, the Municipal Fiber project will create potential partnership opportunities to expand consumer choice and increase available speeds for broadband services available in Alexandria. In response to consistent feedback regarding the lack of options for cable television and broadband Internet services, the City has actively pursued other potential providers. With the construction of the new fiber optic network, the City is planning to seek new partners who could lease excess conduit space to provide broadband service to residents and businesses. This would allow all providers to compete fairly and would encourage providers to offer consumer services.

The city of Alexandria currently leases an I-Net from Comcast and has decided to make the long-term investment to replace that infrastructure. By eliminating the lease arrangement, Alexandria will have more control over the use of the fiber optic network, giving them the ability to expand it in the future to businesses and households or work with private sector partners if the community chooses. The city will also be able to better plan for financial needs if they don't have to contend with unpredictable rate hikes from Comcast.

Alexandria has been looking at developing a municipal network for several years now, but budgeting has been a roadblock. By eliminating an expensive lease from Comcast, they will be able to redirecting those funds toward better local connectivity through a municipal network project.

In order to reduce the cost of the deployment wherever possible:

Because digging and burying conduit is a significant cost of building a fiber network, the City is taking all reasonable opportunities to...

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Posted October 31, 2019 by lgonzalez

Lawrenceville, Virginia, only has around 1,000 people living in the community, but they anticipate a boost in jobs in the near future, thanks to the local electric co-op, a partnership, and fiber optic connectivity. 

Small-Town Guys Getting It Done

Virginia Business reports that Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is in the process of wiring a former bank facility with Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) in order for the next tenant to use the building as a call center. Echo World Communications, based in Bedford County, will take up residence and bring approximately 152 new jobs to Lawrenceville.

According to Virginia Business:

It never would have happened if the building couldn’t have been equipped with high-speed, reliable Internet, says Michael Dotti, business director of the Brunswick County Industrial Development Authority. “It’s a huge amount of technology. This was like small-town guys getting it done.”

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is wiring the bank building this fall at no cost to Brunswick, with funding from Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. (MBC), which started in 2004 as a cooperative to bring fiber-optic networks to rural Virginia. The broadband cooperative also has installed about 90 miles of fiber cables in six Southern Virginia counties, with 45 more miles planned by the end of 2020.

Productive Partners

This isn't the first time we've seen these two entities partner to expand access to broadband in southern Virginia. About two years ago, we reported on a project similar to the one in Lawrenceville in which MEC and MBC connected last mile and middle mile fiber to reduce costs and reach more premises.

The Virginia Business article also mentions that MEC is looking to acquire a local telephone cooperative, if the telephone co-op members approve.

MEC also has proposed the purchase of Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative (BIT) by MEC affiliate Empower Broadband. The merger is contingent on BIT’s 4,500 customers, who have been asked to submit votes by Nov. 13.

“We expect it will speed up the process of putting fiber in this area,” says David Lipscomb, MEC’s vice president of member...

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Posted May 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) announced in January 2018 that they had solidified plans to deploy fiber across 14 counties for smart grid operations and to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the region. The project, dubbed Firefly Fiber Broadband, is underway, and we’ve got President and CEO Gary Wood along with Communications and Member Services Manager Melissa Gay on the podcast this week to discuss the multi-year project.

During this interview, we learn about the CVEC service territory, which is a mix of a few denser populated areas and very rural communities where poor Internet access, when it’s available, is a real problem. CVEC members have been dealing with unreliable connections, oversubscription, and outdated technologies for years. Those problems will be eliminated, however, with FTTH from the co-op that many have come to trust. By obtaining grants, working with local communities, and approaching the process in a strategic manner, CVEC plans on bringing gigabit connections to about 37,000 potential subscribers within five years.

Gary and Melissa describe the cooperative’s process, the discoveries they made about attitudes toward the co-op from members in the community (including some interesting stories), and lessons learned. We hear about some of their marketing approaches that focus on the uniqueness of the region and what it was like to establish a subsidiary in accordance with state law. Through all the hard work, Melissa and Gary have nothing but accolades for employees of the cooperative and compliments for local officials who helped get the project off to a strong start.

Learn more about the status of project from CVEC.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

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