EMPOWER Broadband, the internet and telecommunications subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC), has reached a significant milestone as it installed high-speed broadband service utilizing fiber-optic technology to its 1,000th subscriber.
Fountain Creek Baptist Church, in the Brink Community of Greensville County, is the 1,000th recipient of this new service. Access to EMPOWER Broadband’s high-speed internet brings enhanced opportunities for the Church’s ministry and its congregation.
Fountain Creek’s pastor, Bobby Griles, speaks excitedly when considering the opportunities for their ministry provided by high-speed access to the internet. Pastor Griles indicates, “Our mission is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done for everyone. Having broadband available allows us to share God’s grace and love throughout the world. EMPOWER also provides the people of Fountain Creek Baptist Church access to resources and tools as we grow in God’s grace together. We are blessed to be able to have this valuable technology. We are very pleased that our cooperative stepped up to provide this critical service to our church and our community.”
The availability of high-speed broadband has been a rare commodity in Southside Virginia’s rural communities as construction costs for deployment are high because of the region’s lower population density. Accordingly, traditional internet providers have veered away from connected high-speed deployment in rural areas; so once again, rural residents are meeting their own needs through the, locally-owned, led, and operated EMPOWER Broadband, which is a subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC).
EMPOWER Broadband President and CEO, John C. Lee, Jr. states, “The communities served by EMPOWER Broadband consist of homes, businesses, and organizations…all of which need the access and opportunities afforded by high-speed internet. When EMPOWER Broadband was established, we emphasized that the only business plan that would allow us to successfully bring this much needed service to our sparsely populated region, would require a highly-disciplined and structured approach.
In evaluating our ability to build a fiber network and offer broadband service to our region, we worked diligently to put together a plan that would allow us to step in and successfully get it done…recognizing that no one else would. We built a plan that would avoid substantially leveraging our electric cooperative’s financial assets, one that would initially allow us to save significant dollars by utilizing our electric cooperative staff to get the broadband project off the ground and underway, and lastly, it had to be a plan that resulted in a service offering Southside Virginians an affordable option. Ultimately, there was only one plan that would give us the opportunity to provide the service and meet those critical requirements.
This plan requires us to initially take full advantage of any grants we can secure to build a strong foundation of subscribers and then take the revenues, generated by the areas for which we received financial assistance, to build out to other more remote areas that will likely be ineligible for grants, and will be far more expensive to serve. It also requires us to complete the deployment of our 142 mile fiber ring, which connects most of our substations and district offices, and by month’s end, we’re very pleased to announce that entire project will be complete. That backbone will allow us to extend service into additional areas and we’ll soon be marketing broadband availability to every home or business located along that primary fiber route.
The downside of that plan is that it took some time for the organization get well-grounded, and, of course, everyone is eager to receive the service right away, which is frustrating. The upside is that the plan has unfolded in exactly the manner we had hoped and now EMPOWER is poised to make substantial headway in fiber-to-the-premise connections moving forward.
In fact, EMPOWER is growing not only in the number of subscribers but also in the resources used to deploy and maintain those services. EMPOWER has hired additional service technicians, is adding customer service agents, and is hiring both construction and splicing managers. We’ve been prudent in managing the increasing demands placed on our MEC team with a systematic approach that will keep the cost of broadband service affordable.”
EMPOWER has also ramped up the number of contractors building main lines, installing drops to homes and businesses, and adding to the number of those completing premises installations. EMPOWER currently serves subscribers in Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, and Greensville Counties. Multiple project areas across MEC’s service territory are currently under construction and work to expand services to additional homes and businesses across southern Virginia, and northern North Carolina, is well underway.
Lee added, “While we recognize that we still have a great deal of work to do, we are very pleased with our current position, especially given the challenges presented by the pandemic, which most definitely impacted our progress, and the fact that we have been refining processes to maximize the efficiency of this massive and capital intensive project. And while our prudent and methodical approach to this effort has taken time, it is the same approach that we have used at our cooperative for 80 plus years to offer excellent electric service, maintain a strong fiscal position, and keep our rates affordable.
Please know we fully recognize the business, educational, and social opportunities opened up by broadband service and we are fully committed to providing access to all those we serve…and will not rest until that is the case. We ask only that people remember we have stepped up to do what no one else would, and while it is taking time, with each passing day since we undertook this project, those we serve are one day closer to receiving this much needed benefit. We continue to learn about this industry and we’re getting better every day at building our fiber system, connecting new subscribers, and providing great customer service.”
Lee continued, “EMPOWER’s team is successfully hitting our established milestones and continues to grow as does the demand for our services. We’re proud to be making progress and proud to deliver this much needed service. We recognize there is much work left to do and that those we serve are eagerly anticipating broadband service. Accordingly, we’re methodically building EMPOWER’s organizational structure to meet the broadband and communications needs of the families, farms and businesses we proudly serve.”
To check availability in your area, and log your interest for future builds, visit our website, www.empowermec.net.