Co-op exploring net access

Published 7:21 pm Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Could eventually serve rural areas of IW

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Community Electric Cooperative is in the exploratory phase of providing high speed Internet to its rural customers.  

Community Electric is conducting an analysis to determine the affordability and feasibility of this program in its service territory, according to Jessica Parr, spokesperson for Community Electric Cooperative in Windsor.  

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If the cooperative can get past the first initial steps, it plans to work with Isle of Wight County, Mid-Atlantic Broadband (MBC) and other stakeholders, said Parr. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“We recognize the importance and need for broadband in and around the community we serve — its impetus on economic development, the reinvestments that MBC makes to enhance educational growth, and the infrastructure it provides for telecommunications,” said Parr.

Electric cooperatives in Virginia are looking at broadband as a necessary utility for their customers and its implementation as similar to the rural electrification effort in the 1930s. 

Prince George Electric Cooperative is building a pilot fiber optic-based backbone for its customers in Prince George, Sussex and Surry counties.    

Surry County has pledged $500,000 to the effort. 

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative is also conducting a pilot program to construct a fiber optic cable network through a joint-use agreement with Mid-Atlantic Broadband. 

Mid-Atlantic Broadband, with the assistance of Tobacco Commission grants in the early 2000s, was able to construct a network of fiber cables throughout south central and southeastern Virginia.

Mid-Atlantic is a 501c4 nonprofit social welfare organization that provides an open access network to bridge the digital divide in rural Virginia, according to Tad Deriso, president and CEO, who spoke to the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors on another matter at its Jan. 17 meeting. 

The fiber network was built because no commercial company would do it in the rural areas, plus it allows high-speed internet access for schools and government, said Mark Varah, chief financial officer for Mid-Atlantic Broadband. 

It’s an economic development issue, he said. 

Mid-Atlantic serves 33 counties, including Isle of Wight and Surry. 

While some areas of Isle of Wight County are served by Spectrum Communications (formerly Charter Cable), its franchise agreement with the county is specifically for cable television and requires a certain level of population density before hooking up new areas. 

Those who live in areas not served by Spectrum rely on satellite or personal “hotspots.”  

Jim Henderson, who lives on a large piece of property in Carrollton, still uses satellite, as Spectrum is not yet available at his residence due to low population density. However, the satellite is not as fast as advertised, he said. For example, although Henderson lives in one of the most populous areas of the county, without high speed internet, he cannot watch a movie without buffering interruptions, he said. 

Isle of Wight County recently completed its new emergency communication system that includes the ability to attach wireless broadband equipment, if a company was interested in doing so. 

John C. Lee Jr., president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electrical Cooperative, compares broadband to the rural electrification effort in the late 1930s. 

“Accordingly, the MEC board and staff have come to the conclusion that fiber deployment to the areas we serve has a number of common factors to the extension of electric service to MEC members in 1938 when no one would bring power to rural areas because of the sparse population and the inability to recover the investment. Those parallels lead us to ask ourselves the same question about fiber that our cooperative’s forefathers asked the community about electricity in 1938 … if we don’t deploy fiber and offer ultrahigh-speed internet utilizing this technology…who will?”  {/mprestriction}