Empower Broadband, Teams Up with Greensville County, City of EMPORIA to Submit Broadband Grant Application
Project Partnerships Include Dominion and Mid-Atlantic Broadband
EMPOWER Broadband, Greensville County and the City of Emporia have submitted a grant application to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) to provide universal Fiber-To-The-Premises broadband coverage, over a 36-month timeline, to remaining unserved and underserved homes and businesses throughout the County.
As Greensville County and the City of Emporia sought to provide the strongest VATI application possible, they elected to submit a joint application. This regional approach has been strongly encouraged by VATI as it seeks to provide universal service to significant portions of the Commonwealth, and meet Governor Northam and the Legislature’s drive to provide high-speed internet to all those who lack reliable broadband services.
EMPOWER Broadband President and CEO John C. Lee, Jr. commented, “During this most recent VATI grant cycle, DHCD challenged providers to think big and submit proposals that essentially checked-off entire counties or regions where residents continue to lack high-speed internet. EMPOWER’s team, including its Board of Directors and staff, envisioned this round of funding as an extraordinary prospect to complete our mission of bringing desperately needed broadband service to the unserved areas of Southside Virginia. Our entry into this business was prompted by our membership, and we have taken a structured approach to this point that has positioned us very well to take advantage of this significant opportunity.”
Greensville County Administrator, Dr. Charlette Woolridge, commented, “Affordable and reliable high-speed internet is imperative to enhance the economic growth, development, vitality and success of our children, families and businesses. We require and deserve the same broadband speeds that are already offered across much of Virginia. Therefore, the Board of Supervisors and County Administration have assembled a team needed to bridge the digital divide faced in our community. With the Commonwealth awarding a significant amount of broadband funding through VATI, we are leveraging this partnership with EMPOWER to bring about a transformational change!”
EMPOWER has completed the initial 135-mile fiber optic cable backbone funded through a matching 2018 grant with the Virginia Tobacco Commission. That backbone serves as the foundation for this latest grant application and currently offers ultra-high-speed fiber optic internet as it crosses portions of Greensville Co. and Emporia. In April, EMPOWER announced the connection of its 1000th subscriber, Fountain Creek Baptist Church, in the Emporia Greensville community.
Regarding the project, City of Emporia Manager William Johnson, remarks, “We’ve kept in communication with EMPOWER’s team as they continue to deploy this advanced fiber network through the City and the surrounding area. This joint application clearly sets up our communities for solid consideration as DHCD places a strong emphasis on regional solutions. Providing access to such a service for our residents, businesses and business parks gives us an extra tool to attract needed job opportunities. Simply put … this is a game-changer for traditional business and home-based businesses.”
Projected capital costs under this application represents a $24.8 million investment over a three-year period elevating the need for a significant matching share from the VATI program. The joint County and City application requests to DHCD is for just over $12 Million to reach nearly 2,700 premises that suffer from woefully inadequate broadband. This amount will facilitate the construction of a solid Fiber-To-The-Premises network capable of providing broadband speeds up to 1,000 Megabits per second to area residents and businesses. A significant advantage of fiber-based broadband is its ability to meet the speeds required today as well as tomorrow. Fiber construction delivers a long-term solution without requiring multiple upgrades over time, and in comparison, offers the lowest long-term total deployment cost. Additionally, the technology delivers reliability and speed, which are unaffected by weather or terrain conditions.
The grant application includes the construction of 367 miles of fiber and making Fiber-To-The-Premises available to 2,691 homes and businesses. The project represents over $310,000 in investment within the City and accordingly Council has approved $105,000 in matching funds. The County continues to consider a match to bolster application strength and ensure deployment to its residents. Collectively, EMPOWER and others will provide over $15 million in matching funds with the remaining share being requested from the VATI program.
For this application, Dominion Energy and EMPOWER have executed an agreement for Virginia Dominion Energy to deploy middle-mile service to facilitate EMPOWER extending last-mile service to previously unserved and underserved populations in Dominion’s service territory. Both parties believe their partnership can dramatically expand broadband access to presently unserved areas throughout the Emporia Greensville area.
In addition to Dominion, EMPOWER also has an agreement with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) to utilize their middle-mile fiber facilities when and where needed. Perhaps more importantly, the two entities have a fiber sharing/trading agreement, which has saved EMPOWER substantial costs dollars. MBC and EMPOWER have worked in coordination over the last few years to leverage the middle-mile fiber network made possible by investments from the Commonwealth of Virginia. For this application, MBC proposes to provide fiber access to EMPOWER to assist with the overall project.
David Jones, Chairman of the EMPOWER Broadband Board of Directors, emphatically stated, “EMPOWER’s parent company, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, has served Southside Virginia for over 80 years. Over that time, it has become more than apparent that if our residents are to receive access to critically important broadband infrastructure, local leaders must be the driving force behind that mission and its ultimate accomplishment. It’s no different than the Cooperative’s efforts to bring electricity to the countryside in the 1930s when no one else would, and then providing telephone service to Southside Virginia in the 1950s because the giant investor-owned communications companies refused to do so. MEC delivered on both those occasions, and we intend to do so a third time with Broadband, as once again, no one else is willing to step up and provide broadband comparable to the service enjoyed by our urban neighbors. This partnership with Greensville County and the City of Emporia, and the pending VATI application, will pave the path for EMPOWER to meet the broadband needs of our communities.
Additionally, this application is part of an overall regional EMPOWER effort to deliver universal coverage to all unserved and underserved residents of Greensville County and Emporia but also includes Brunswick, Mecklenburg, Halifax counties and the southern portion of Charlotte County through a separate submittal with the Southside Planning District Commission. In total, this represents a $203 million project and a request of matching funds of $91 million to VATI.
In recent weeks, Virginia’s legislature appropriated $700 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to match private and locality funds to complete the buildout of high-speed internet to some 230,000 rural residents. This funding represents the Commonwealth’s most significant investment to ensure all Virginians have access to high-speed broadband.
“We are very pleased to be a part of this strong initiative to provide universal coverage to those with little or no options for robust broadband service that is essential to provide greater educational opportunities, accommodate telework and telemedicine efforts, and bolster our region’s economic development efforts. We are eager to get started recognizing that the critical need for this service continues to intensify in Southside Virginia’s communities,” Lee stated, adding “Up until this point, EMPOWER has deployed fiber through smaller projects, as funding became available, and we have done exactly as we promised when we began this mission to serve, that we would proceed with prudent deliberation and discipline. With this grant, however, we’ll have the resources to put a foot on the gas and blanket these counties with the resources needed to deliver this life-changing service in a timely manner.”
Greensville County is serving as the DHCD applicant for the joint project, which was submitted on September 14, and comes with an anticipated notice of award near year-end 2021.