EMPOWER Broadband, Inc. is aggressively moving toward the construction phase of its $154 million broadband project serving Halifax, Mecklenburg, southern Brunswick and southern Charlotte Counties, and has taken the next step in the process by hiring a firm to assist in the project’s design and construction oversight.
“EMPOWER Broadband has worked diligently to position itself to bring high-speed broadband to Southside Virginia, and our recently announced $154 million expansion is a historic step in bringing universal coverage to our region,” said John C. Lee, Jr., EMPOWER President and CEO. “EMPOWER is targeting an aggressive construction timeline and we have interviewed multiple, nationally-renowned Fiber Engineering and Construction firms to assist us in managing and expediting this critically important project.
“Accordingly, we are pleased to announce we have executed an agreement with Magellan Advisors to serve as our Owner’s Engineer (OE) firm,” he stated. “This well-respected, highly experienced organization has provided planning, engineering, and construction management of more than $1 billion in new broadband investments, has connected more than one million homes with gigabit broadband, and connected fiber to thousands of schools, hospitals, libraries and government facilities across the U.S.”
Magellan has deployed over 50 different advanced broadband networks nationwide constructing thousands of miles of fiber, including those owned by electric cooperatives and municipalities. They have previously worked in this region while providing services to the City of Chesapeake, and electric cooperatives including Middle Tennessee Electric Cooperative in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Magellan and EMPOWER staff are currently defining the boundaries of upwards of 30 individual construction zones across the collective project area. Once defined, these areas will be presented through a Request For Proposal (RFP) process seeking the most cost-effective and qualified construction companies to submit proposals to build each zone in the project area. Once construction contractors are selected, Magellan’s experienced on-site deployment team will assist EMPOWER in overseeing daily work including: supervision of splicing, termination and testing; inspection of backbone, distribution and drop construction; tracking field changes; creating a punch list, and contracting close-out items for each zone.
“We anticipate working in all four counties concurrently, beginning mostly in areas adjacent to existing EMPOWER facilities where we have fiber that is deployed, and building out from our lit fiber there. Building an entire broadband network across this expansive rural area is a monumental undertaking,” he continued. “At this breakneck pace, we will rely on residents' patience as we build to their homes and businesses, but we commit to our residents, our communities, and our counties, to work with diligence and urgency to complete this crucial task and deliver to them what no one else would … and make no mistake about it … EMPOWER is coming to you.
Additionally, once deployment zones are finalized, EMPOWER will lay out a construction schedule and provide timelines for each zone of this project that ultimately will result in world class broadband service being accessible to over 14,000 Southside Virginia homes and businesses. Company officials anticipate a May release of the timetable, and the commencement of construction later in June. Additionally, once construction is underway, EMPOWER will provide a regularly updated dashboard of progress indicators informing those interested as to how the project is progressing with a number of statistics such as miles of fiber deployed, number of customers connected, etc.
Concurrently, as EMPOWER secured an outstanding OE, the Southside Planning District Commission is finalizing agreements with Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) regarding the award of $69 million in ARPA Funds (American Rescue Plan Act) to aid in construction costs to bring high-speed internet access to the region’s unserved rural areas.
Lee also stated, “We are very anxious to get rolling, to lighting fiber, and to bringing this critically important service to our communities. Please know that we recognize that everyone wants this service yesterday, and rightly so, as it becomes more of a necessity for education, business, and entertainment every day. Rest assured, we’ll move this project forward aggressively to bring you powerful and highly reliable broadband access as soon as we possibly can, but please remember the magnitude of this project. It will take some time, and some will get the service sooner than others. But know that we are coming, and that our fiber to the premise service is worth the wait … contrary to the hype by some others, there is NO internet access that rivals fiber for broadband service … none. You will be getting the best that technology has to offer when we connect your homes and businesses.
“Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC), EMPOWER Broadband’s parent company, began building an electric distribution system to serve Southside Virginia in 1938, when large investor-owned utilities saw no value in serving rural areas because of low population density, and refused to extend electric service there, depriving rural Virginians of all the comforts and conveniences afforded by electricity,” Lee said. “Then, in the 1950’s, MEC stepped up again and established Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative to bring telephone service to the rural countryside when the ‘Ma Bells’ refused to do so for the same reason … a low return on their investment because of low density.
“Now, for a third time, we are answering the call of those we serve. We have embarked on this broadband effort because traditional providers have neglected and avoided our area for decades,” Lee commented, adding, “The magnitude of this project rivals the work we encountered in building an electric system which has been under construction, through growth and maintenance, for over 80 years now.”