Tag: "virginia"

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.

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using...

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Posted May 9, 2019 by lgonzalez

During this legislative session, state lawmakers in several states passed bills that allocated funds to broadband deployment and planning programs. In many states, elected officials are listening to constituents and experts who tell them that they need fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to keep their communities from dwindling. States that refuse funding to public entities, however, block out some of the best opportunities to connect people and businesses in rural areas. In places such as Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, states need to trust their own people to develop necessary broadband networks.

The Great Lakes State: Not Great at Supporting Local Broadband

Michigan’s HB 5670 caught the attention of community broadband advocates when it was introduced by Representative Michele Hoitenga in 2018. The bill was firmly anti-municipal network and after some investigation, it became clear that Hoitenga received guidance from lobbyists from big cable and telephone monopolies. HB 5670, with its sad definition of “broadband” and attempt to fork over state funds to big national ISPs didn’t go anywhere alone after word spread.

seal-michigan.png Folks from the Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and other constituents in rural Michigan voiced their concern and the bill seemed to disappear. In reality, the House folded the language into SB 601, a large appropriations bill, which has now become law. Section 806 lists the types of entities that are eligible to receive grants from the $20 million set aside for infrastructure -- public entities are specifically eliminated.

In Michigan, places such as Sebewaing, and Marshall have already proven that local residents and businesses need gigabit connectivity and that they trust services from their local municipal utility broadband provider. The language of SB 601 as written will also prevent local governments from obtaining...

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Posted December 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

As they look back over their accomplishments, the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) has more than the holidays to celebrate at the close of 2018. In addition to stimulating competition in the region, the RVBA network is attracting more investment and helping local nonprofits operate more efficiently.

Dual Purpose

For Feeding America Southwest Virginia in Salem, connectivity from RVBA is critical. “Without that Internet connection reliability, it would be very difficult for us to achieve our mission,” says IT Director Eric Geist. The food bank is one of the enterprise customers that the RVBA serves in the region, providing affordable access to organizations and institutions such as nonprofits, businesses, and institutions.

By providing affordable connectivity and services focused on the needs of businesses, the RVBA network has helped drive competition in the region. According to CEO Frank Smith’s research, prices have dropped 25 - 30 percent. The change squares with the RVBA mission to enhance and promote economic development by improving connectivity services and prices in Salem, Roanoke, and the counties of Roanoke and Botetourt. They've seen results in the past three years with greater expectations ahead.

The History

Before the network, the valley was caught in a connectivity “donut hole.” The populations in Salem and Roanoke had access to some cable Internet access and were large enough to prevent the region from obtaining grants to entice providers to upgrade. In 2013, local governments decided to work together to improve connectivity and funded a feasibility study, which recommended an open access network.

roanoke-valley-va_1.jpg Botetourt and Roanoke Counties were indecisive about their commitment to the project, but the cities of Salem and Roanoke pushed ahead. Salem, with its own electric utility, already had some fiber infrastructure in place, which lowered the cost of the...

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Posted May 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Portsmouth, Virginia, recently announced that they intend to invest in fiber optic infrastructure to reduce telecommunications costs, encourage economic development, and keep the city competitive in the region. The project is also part of a regional effort to foster economic development in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area.

In the April press release, the city announced that the project will include a 55-mile fiber optic ring around the city that will connect municipal facilities and anchor institutions. The plan will use a five-year multiphase approach for the estimated $9 million capital project and construction is likely to begin this summer.

According to city CIO Daniel Jones, costs for the first year will come in at around $2.7 million. Portsmouth is currently reviewing bids for the project.

Significant Savings

Portsmouth CIO Dan Jones noted, “Right now, Portsmouth is internet carrier dependent. The broadband network will improve municipal operations at a substantial cost savings.” 

Last year, the city adopted a Fiber Master Plan, which analyzed potential cost savings, should Portsmouth choose to invest in its own Internet network infrastructure. Consultants estimated that the city and public schools spend more than $1 million on connectivity costs per year for municipal facilities, schools, and public libraries. The community’s schools’ telecom expenditures are almost $638,000 per year; libraries spend around $29,000 per year. Portsmouth schools receive an 80 percent reimbursement from the federal E-rate program, which allows the school system to receive a subsidy of more than $510,000 annually. Portsmouth plans to use E-rate dollars to help fund network construction in areas where it serves school facilities.

When Portsmouth invests in its own infrastructure, rather than leasing lines from the incumbent providers, consultants...

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Posted April 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

When local community leaders choose to make improving connectivity a priority, they first need to reach out to residents and businesses to discover the extent of the problem. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the City Council has launched a survey and asks that businesses and residents take a few minutes to complete it.

The city is about 45 miles south of Washington, D.C., and known for its historic quality, which extends to architecture in the downtown area. Large employers in the area include GEICO, the University of Mary Washington, and Mary Washington Healthcare — all industries that need access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. About 28,000 people living in Fredericksburg, and unemployment is less than 4 percent. The Rappahannock River runs along the city’s northern border.

In their announcement about the survey, the City Council wrote:

City Council has established a priority to create more focus on broadband and to strive to be the fastest City in Virginia for broadband. To further that goal, we’d like to find out more about your broadband access and needs. Our focus is on residents and businesses within the City limits.

There are two separate surveys for residents and businesses; the survey will remain open until May 18th, 2018

It Starts By Asking Questions

A survey may or may not lead to public investment in Internet infrastructure, but it helps community leaders move past anecdotal information about local connectivity. By asking people in the community to share their experiences and opinions, city leaders are better able to determine if there is a problem, discover options that may help solve the problem, and get a sense for how the citizenry feel about potential investment.

Sometimes a survey leads a community to consider taking up a feasibility study for deeper examination of the potential solutions. Other times, news of a survey inspires local private sector ISPs to improve services. In places like western North Carolina, regional officials launched a survey hoping to correct inaccurate FCC data. West Virginia has ...

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Posted March 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Electric cooperatives in Virginia are continuing to transform connectivity in the state’s rural communities. With funding assistance from state and local government, projects in Mecklenburg and Appomattox Counties will soon be moving forward.

Building Out Mecklenburg

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRCC) was formed when the state, along with Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas, chose to break off from a Master Settlement Agreement between the largest tobacco companies and the remaining 46 states. The proceeds from their separate settlement have been used for broadband and other projects to diversify the economy. The TRCC administers grants and a loan fund.

Last fall, the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) announced that they planned to upgrade their fiber optic network infrastructure to connect substations and district offices. The board of directors decided that the upgrade would give them the perfect opportunity to engage in a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project. As part of the project, MEC entered into an agreement to use the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) fiber backbone.

The cooperative applied for a grant from TRRC and recently learned that they've been awarded $2.6 million for the $5.2 million project. They've dubbed the initiative the EmPower Broadband Cooperative.

EmPower will begin by offering 50 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical Internet service for approximately $65 - $75 per month; VoIP will also be available. Members within 1,000 feet of the backbone that MEC deploys will have the ability to sign up for the service. Like other pilot projects, MEC will use the opportunity to fine tune the service and gage interest before they decide whether or not to take EmPower to the rest of their electric service area and possibly beyond.

President of MEC John Lee:

Electric cooperatives are, far and away, the best positioned entities to bring ultra-high-speed broadband to the unserved or underserved rural areas of the Commonwealth, and MEC has...

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Posted February 20, 2018 by christopher

When the Eastern Shore of Virginia needed better Internet access, in part to ensure NASA could achieve its mission, Accomack and Northampton counties created the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority. Its Executive Director, Robert Bridgham joins us for episode 294 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

We talk about why they used an Authority and how it was initially funded with grants that were later repayed because the network was so successful. They also used some community development block grants though the network has since expanded with its own revenues. 

The network both leases lines to independent ISPs and provides services directly. And it is expanding its Fiber-to-the-Home network to more neighborhoods each year in an incremental fashion. Read more about Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority here.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted February 13, 2018 by christopher

In Virginia, Arlington has found new ways to use its municipal network to reduce the digital divide. Katie Cristol, Chair of the Arlington County Board, and Jack Belcher, County Chief Information Officer, join us for episode 293 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to explain what they are doing.

We discuss how a new residential development, Arlington Mill, will feature affordable Internet access delivered via Wi-Fi for low-income families. It was financed in part with Tax Increment Financing and required a collaboration between multiple departments to create.

We discuss the challenge of creating such collaborations as well as some of the other benefits the ConnectArlington project has delivered.

Remember to check out our interveiw with Belcher from 2014 for episode 97 of the podcast, when we discussed the decision to begin offering connectivity to local businesses.

Read the transcript for this show here.

This show is 27 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted January 25, 2018 by lgonzalez

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...

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