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MEC wins funding for county fiber broadband

SoVaNow.com / January 23, 2020
Virginia has awarded a $710,514 grant to Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative’s EMPOWER subsidiary to expand fiber optic internet service in Halifax County.

The award, provided through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), is part of an $18.3 million grant round announced Wednesday by Gov. Ralph Northam.

“Broadband is a necessity for communities to attract business, for students to use educational resources, and for Virginians to receive healthcare through telemedicine,” said Northam.

“My administration is committed to expanding broadband access to every part of Virginia, so that all of our citizens have access to the opportunities that connectivity make possible,” he stated.

In Halifax County, MEC EMPOWER has already run fiber optic cable to link up parts of its electrical grid infrastructure. In November, the cooperative completed the first part of its county network — a 5.5 mile section of fiber optic cable running through the Clays Mill and Crystal Hill areas.

The VATI grant will be used to pay for a second phase of the fiber network, providing access to high-speed broadband internet in five areas: northwest Halifax County in the Nathalie area; lower Liberty; Meadville to Route 57 (Chatham Road); from Omega to Virgilina; and areas north of Crystal Hill.

Once complete, the network will offer high-speed internet access to 2,215 potential customers in the five areas of the county. MEC has said the Crystal Hill-Clays Mill portion of the network provides access to nearly 500 homes and businesses.

MEC’s grand design is to deploy 135 miles of fiber optic cable in Pittsylvania, Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Brunswick and Greensville counties, offering ultra-high speed service to thousands of homes and businesses within 1,000 feet of the lines. MEC officials say the fiber optic network should be fully built by the end of 2020 or early 2021.

EMPOWER is offering home and business packages of varying speeds, ranging from 50 megabytes per second (Mbps) all the way up to 300 gigabytes for large industrial and business users.

The monthly rate for a base package of 50 Mbps is $69.95, according to David Lipscomb, MEC vice president of member and energy services. A 1-gigabyte service option for business and heavy household use is available for $299.00 monthly.

In testing the service, the 50 Mbps speed has proven to be plenty capable of handling the needs of most households, said Lipscomb.

The member cooperative competed successfully with 34 localities around the state submitting 39 applications for funding. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers the VATI program, selected 12 projects for funding.

“VATI is a key resource we are utilizing to expand broadband access to all Virginians,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “This funding will contribute significantly to the number of residents across the Commonwealth that are able to live and work more efficiently thanks to broadband connectivity.”

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