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MEC fiber project gains $3.8 million boost

South Boston News / November 13, 2019

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative’s efforts to close the digital divide in Southside Virginia by installing fiber-to-home broadband has gotten a $3.8 million boost from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Chase City-based cooperative announced Tuesday that its EMPOWER subsidiary was recently awarded a nearly $3.8 million loan by USDA for its fiber-to-the-home project. This funding will help to bring high-speed internet access to more than 1,250 households in Brunswick County through EMPOWER Broadband.

The loan comes from the USDA ReConnect program, which provides support to expand access to broadband in partnership with co-ops, the private sector and rural communities.

Donald “DJ” LaVoy, USDA deputy undersecretary of Rural Development, made the award announcement at a Nov. 4 ceremony at the Triplet Volunteer Fire Department near Lawrenceville, part of MEC’s service territory. “Our core mission at USDA is to increase rural prosperity, and this mission cannot be achieved without addressing the digital divide our rural communities face due to a lack of high-speed broadband internet connection.”

“Our cooperative is very proud of the significant role we have played in improving the quality of life for those living here by providing the valuable service of electricity, and in 2019, we continue to build upon that legacy by forming EMPOWER Broadband to bring resilient, best-in-technology internet service to the citizens of Southside Virginia,” said John Lee Jr., president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and EMPOWER Broadband.

“This funding is a substantial breakthrough for our efforts in deploying fiber to Brunswick County residents, and I want to say how grateful we are for USDA’s assistance. Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative will use this ReConnect program funding to deploy a fiber-to-the-home broadband network capable of simultaneous transmission rates of one gigabit per second and greater.”

In addition to serving 1,254 households, the initiative will hook up four educational facilities and two volunteer fire departments. It will serve as a hub as EMPOWER Broadband reaches out across Brunswick County. “We are truly excited about what has taken place. It falls right in line with our vision,” said Barbara Jarrett-Harris, chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Supervisors.

Dave High of the Triplet VFD said spotty internet coverage has hobbled the department when it attempts to file required incident reports with state agencies. “This will be a big improvement."

Mecklenburg Electric has recently contracted to provide high-speed internet to a new call center that will bring 153 jobs to Brunswick County. “Without access to fiber, that call center would likely have landed elsewhere,” Lee said.

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