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Firefly Fiber All the Buzz in Central Virginia - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 358
The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) announced in January 2018 that they had solidified plans to deploy fiber across 14 counties for smart grid operations and to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to the region. The project, dubbed Firefly Fiber Broadband, is underway, and we’ve got President and CEO Gary Wood along with Communications and Member Services Manager Melissa Gay on the podcast this week to discuss the multi-year project.
During this interview, we learn about the CVEC service territory, which is a mix of a few denser populated areas and very rural communities where poor Internet access, when it’s available, is a real problem. CVEC members have been dealing with unreliable connections, oversubscription, and outdated technologies for years. Those problems will be eliminated, however, with FTTH from the co-op that many have come to trust. By obtaining grants, working with local communities, and approaching the process in a strategic manner, CVEC plans on bringing gigabit connections to about 37,000 potential subscribers within five years.
Gary and Melissa describe the cooperative’s process, the discoveries they made about attitudes toward the co-op from members in the community (including some interesting stories), and lessons learned. We hear about some of their marketing approaches that focus on the uniqueness of the region and what it was like to establish a subsidiary in accordance with state law. Through all the hard work, Melissa and Gary have nothing but accolades for employees of the cooperative and compliments for local officials who helped get the project off to a strong start.
Learn more about the status of project from CVEC.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Melissa Gay: What I've learned along the way is how absolutely satisfying and how gratifying an experience it is to be involved in this, and how our predecessors must have felt in the 30s when they turned those lights on.
Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 358 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. In early 2018, the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative announced details of their plan to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home to members across their service area. Beginning with the pilot project, they plan to bring high quality Internet access to members in some of the least connected areas of the state. This week, Christopher talks with Gary Wood and Melissa Gay from the co-op. Gary and Melissa describe why CVEC decided to take on the project and what Internet access is like in the region. They discuss the reason why this project makes sense, including the multiple uses for the fiber that will benefit both Internet access subscribers and electric customers. During the conversation, we get to hear about the process that led to the decision to deploy fiber to this region of Virginia, how the cooperative is funding the project, their marketing techniques, and the lessons learned from taking on the Firefly Broadband project. You can learn more about the CVEC project at muninetworks.org and by visiting the cooperatives update page mycvec.com/community/broadband. Now let's learn about the Firefly Broadband project from the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative with Gary Wood and Melissa Gay.
Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis. Today I'm talking to two people from Virginia who come with very high recommendations from Jon Chambers, a frequent guest. We're gonna introduce you first to Gary Wood, the president and CEO of the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. Welcome to the show.
Gary Wood: Thank you, Chris. Looking forward to talking today.
Christopher Mitchell: Great. And we also have Melissa Gay, the communications and member services manager for CVEC as well. Welcome back — or welcome to the show, I should say.
Melissa Gay: Thank you.
Christopher Mitchell: So let me start by asking you, Gary — maybe just tell us a little bit about the area. What is central Virginia?
Gary Wood: Central Virginia is a service territory for our electric co-op. It covers the area between Charlottesville and Lynchburg. On the western side of our service area, it borders up along the Blue Ridge mountains. We go up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail and some mountainous areas, and then it runs all the way down to about 30 miles west of Richmond, the capital of Virginia. We have a mix of that mountainous terrain to the west and then some flatlands down to the James River, which is the main river that courses through Virginia, so we have some lower areas along there. It's mostly wooded and farming territory in the rural areas. The places we serve are fairly sparsely populated outside of the cities of Charlottesville and Lynchburg and around a few smaller towns in the rural counties. We touch into about 14 different counties in Virginia, but it's a pretty rustic and rural area. Beautiful place to visit, and I hope some of your listeners will have a chance to come visit us sometime.
Christopher Mitchell: Tell me, Melissa you from the area?
Melissa Gay: I sure am. Born and raised in Amherst County, which is a neighboring county for our headquarters here at Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. We're headquartered in Nelson County.
Christopher Mitchell: Great. And Gary, are you also a native to the area?
Melissa Gay: I am. I grew up about 15 minutes from our headquarters, moved away for a while at college and after college when I was first married, and then found my way back and have been back in the area now for about 30 years. So, it's a very familiar place for me.
Christopher Mitchell: That's great. I mean, it'll inform some of this discussion to know that you have such an attachment to the area, both of you, given that you're taking on a really important task — you know, investment for generations. We'll be talking about the fiber network y'all are building. So, I guess, let me start with you, Melissa and just ask you, you know, where did this idea of a fiber network that your cooperative would run, where did that come from?
Melissa Gay: Well, the cooperative began to explore this for its internal use, for the electric grid use. We need that fiber to improve our security at our substations so we can have video surveillance of those areas. Particularly with cybersecurity concerns on the rise for any utility in the nation, we saw a need for that, and our board of directors certainly has approved and agreed with the need for that as well as the need to improve our reliability. Being able to use reclosers and things that will improve the response time for eliminating outages or closing outages, we know that that will be important. And as everybody is moving into smart TVs and smart thermostats and everything is "smart" these days, we will find that we, the electric company, can work with our members to regulate their energy use and save them money, so that they're not using the thermostat at times when they're not home but it's a peak load for another segment of our member population. And so, we can work to pull that demand back when we need and give it to them when they need. It's a win-win situation. They would save the money and we could regulate our load a little more closely. So it started there. We knew that we would benefit from fiber which would link all of our substations together — a lot of other cooperatives call that a ring — so that you have a continuous loop of fiber all around your system so you can do the surveillance at your substations and link all of your members in. And then of course, the other huge piece of this is our member need. We're looking at our communities where our youth don't have access to the Internet like their peers in larger cities across the nation, and even within our own counties we're seeing the inequality of the availability of broadband from just one side of the county to the other. So those students are in churches and in McDonald's parking lots and go into friends' houses and staying at school later to do their homework, whereas other students are at the comfort of their home and you know, can really settle in and concentrate on their studies. And we see that all the way through the college generation and adults, for people who want to do online business, online courses, work at home. So we know the need is there for our members, and we really are at a deficit and a disadvantage in the rural corners of our service territory, very similar to the 1930s when the bigger utilities didn't want to come and provide that power here in the rural areas. We're finding that it's not a very cost effective model for larger Internet service providers to come into these small pockets and provide the Internet.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, we've heard that many times, I think, the same dynamic happening in a lot of different places because, well first of all, it's predictable. Like, a lot of us saw this coming just based on history as you noted from the 30s. Gary, I'm curious if you can tell us a little bit about Internet access across your electric footprint. You know, I definitely get a sense that it's not what you wanted it to be and that's why you're investing significantly, but what is it like in terms of the access? Is there anything or is it just that it's inadequate?
Gary Wood: It's certainly inadequate. There are areas where there are no options whatsoever, but in other areas there's cell phone coverage that can meet some needs. A lot of times that has data caps. The cell phone towers are not throughout the area so sometimes it's hard to get a good signal depending on where your home is. The DSL service from the incumbent telephone companies are only available in a few of the areas around the counties. Where it is available, it's not available very far from their switch and it's not a reliable signal. Where they do have it, it tends to be oversubscribed, so during peak times the speeds are a little slow. We do have satellite availability, but in the mountains here and with the trees — not all of our members want to cut down their trees to get the satellite signal.
Christopher Mitchell: I should say not. I mean, maybe if it was decent.
Gary Wood: That's right. And then the problem if you get it is the data caps on that and the expense, and again, it tends to slow at peak times. I think out of our 38,000 accounts, about 900 of them had access to fiber when we looked at the start of this project, so it's a very limited area that has true high speed. There are a few wireless providers, but in the terrain we have, that's a difficult technology to keep the signal reliable. It has weather problems in addition to the terrain and the trees, and the areas that they have subscriptions, they tend to oversubscribe also and be a little slower at peak times. This has been a problem for a while. Our co-op goes back — 1997, even in dial up days, we didn't have local dial up options here when that was the technology that was used to be online, and our co-op started a dial up Internet service and ran it for a number of years until a few other options came around. And we tried broadband over power line for a while because speeds had moved up a little bit beyond dial up and no one had any options. We tried a third party with that for a while. We've tried reaching out to other folks to ask incumbent providers if they would move on to our lines, whether it's a cable provider in the area or a telephone provider, and offered to allow them to attach to our poles without charging them annual fees if they would just provide service to everybody. And we haven't found any takers because it's tough to make the numbers work for a lot of those folks to give them the returns they want, so the result is we have an area that has very limited — I would say probably less than 10 percent of our customers have anything that would resemble true high speed, anything around 25 megabit or even above 10 megabit, service that's reliable and affordable.
Christopher Mitchell: When you were trying to figure out how to solve that, I'm curious if you originally thought that fiber was feasible or if you just evaluated all your different options. Like, how did you go about deciding on the plan to roll out this network?
Gary Wood: Well, it's interesting that at the start of this conversation you mentioned that Jon Chambers had talked about Central Virginia because Jon Chambers was a part of what opened our eyes to the potential of building fiber. We had assumed it would be too expensive, and I was at a conference that Jon spoke at and talked about some other co-ops in some areas similar to ours where the economics had worked and they'd built up systems. From his talk, I came back, discussed it with our staff, and we decided to engage Conexon and do a feasibility study just to see — to either prove to us that we couldn't afford the fiber or to understand what it would take to put it in. And that was probably early 2017, in that time frame that we did the feasibility study, and it came back and showed that it was very marginally acceptable. When we first looked at it, there was seven years before our subsidiary would get to a positive cash flow on an annual basis, and it was year 11 before we paid off those first years of losses and kind of got to a simple break even. Our board gave us the go ahead as a staff to start the first year as a pilot project and serve as a proof of concept that we could meet the cost and revenues in the feasibility study, but also to look for ways to drive the cost down further and to bring in some other revenues if we could from outside sources to help strengthen the business case for the fiber buildout.
Christopher Mitchell: Great. Melissa, do you want to just give us a sense of what the plan is right now?
Melissa Gay: So we have a 27 substations, and as Gary mentioned, we serve parts of 14 county and 37,000 plus members. And our plan is to pass each and every one of those homes with the option for Fiber-to-the-Home gigabit speed service within a five year timeframe. So that requires us to have contractors on the ground to build at 15 to 20 miles of construction a week, so that we can hit our target. That includes the make ready engineering process where they stake out each of those areas and the design is done and make ready construction where they actually change out the poles if they need to be taller and move the transformers around. You have to put it on the anchors to make sure that those poles can help hold that additional weight, so we put in the extra anchors. And then the final piece of that is the actual fiber construction where you see, you know, they're put in the strand on and lashing the fiber on, and then the splicing, and then the pace of getting it into the home and finally lighting up all of these homes across our service territory.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, did I jump a step then? Because Gary, I sort of jumped in and you were talking about getting the costs down. Was there an interim step that I missed there?
Gary Wood: We did start that first pilot year. We've had good success as far as being able to show that we can keep the costs in line close to where the feasibility study showed they could be. And we've found a significant amount of support from outside through various subsidies, incentives, grants, the Connect America Fund, some state grants, and then local county incentives, so that together we've offset a big part of the cost, capital costs, and some of the first year's operating losses that we would've had if we did not have those outside dollars coming in.
Christopher Mitchell: I mean, it's amazing to me, and I love hearing that. I mean, the fact that you won in the Connect America Fund auction. You were successful in that, right? That's the part of the Connect America Fund that you tapped into.
Gary Wood: Absolutely. We were very fortunate in the Connect America Fund and Conexon was very helpful to us because they were very familiar with the bidding process and they did some work to help co-ops become qualified bidders in that auction. Our co-op was able to get $28.6 million over the next 10 years in award from that auction, and that's going to certainly help strengthen the business case for our buildout.
Christopher Mitchell: Now, Melissa, you identified — and very well, I think, in sort of an understated way — the enormity of the challenge, but I am curious about something. It's a little bit of an off the wall question, and that is, was the hardest part of this picking a name for the fiber subsidiary?
Melissa Gay: Oh, that was the most fun. It was very hard. Certainly we had some great options on the table. We have a partner in creation and design with this, aside from our own management team and even input from our employees, the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative employees and the board. The Blue Ridge Design Group in Charlottesville partnered with us, and they listened to all of the ideas of the project and the scope, and you know, they've got that creative flair of course. They gave us several options, and we also had suggestions from our employees. We put out a survey, and we asked, and we had one final suggestion from employees and then one that had come from the pool from the Blue Ridge Group. So we've vetted those ideas. We vetted logos for each of those and all of the supporting colors and all of the design pieces for each of those. And then we put that to a vote. We went out to our member advisory council members and let them see each of those and give their input. It was a fun process. Probably one of my favorite things from the startup, since I don't do design and don't pick substations and also don't do dollars. I'm in the communication side. So I'd have to say this has been one of the most exhilarating experiences to see the Firefly come to life and think about how it's so representative of our beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. We do have fireflies here in the summer. Our children run around and catch them and they put them in jars and let them light up. So it's a very meaningful name for us and sort of the double meaning there of lighting up all of these households with fiber across our service territory.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I like that, although growing up in Pennsylvania, I have to say that I always knew them as lightening bugs before I learned the term firefly.
Melissa Gay: Well, and we like that term too, and we're counting on the fact that our members know that they're lightning bugs. We play on that with "lightning fast Internet." So we sort of like that, being an electric company and often an electric bolt looks very similar to lightening, so you can kind of tie it all in together when you're doing your design and marketing piece.
Christopher Mitchell: And so, let me ask you first, Gary, but I'd love to get a reaction from Melissa as well. But have there been any interesting surprises along the way that you can share with us? Any insights that you now have that you may not have expected a few years ago?
Gary Wood: Well we could do a whole separate podcast just on the things we have learned.
Christopher Mitchell: Sure.
Gary Wood: And there's so many. We have learned a lot of new things about the way that fiber goes together. We've learned about the way the state laws require you to work in Virginia with a subsidiary and have it set up to sell Internet. We've learned what some of our local folks think in a very positive way about the co-op and how there are people who, even if they have another service, they love their co-op so much that they want to switch to anything that we're providing. We've learned about how our employees think about our projects when we start out, and we learned how a lot of them have really stepped up to the plate at a really busy time to help us out. There's just a lot of positives out of it. There's a few little funny stories that may be in there. I'll have to be careful about which one suitable for a podcast that I can tell. But Melissa, maybe you want to take off a little bit.
Christopher Mitchell: We'll do the extended version later.
Melissa Gay: I would echo everything that Gary said, and you know, I thought as he was talking, the county support — I have had an opportunity in my role now to go and accompany Gary to some of these meetings and meet these county leaders and to see that they're in this just as well as we are. You know, their residents are begging, crying, demanding for this Internet. I mean this is, you know, life or death it seems to some of these folks. They cannot get it, and they're just feeling so cut off and so alienated. And I feel so satisfied when I walk out of those doors and I can say, okay, you know, we serve more than half of this county and therefore when this project concludes, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative and Firefly are going to offer half of this whole county the opportunity to get gigabit speed Internet for $79.99 with no data cap, no contract, and bringing a wholesome product to our members. And so for me, what I've learned along the way is how absolutely satisfying and how gratifying an experience it is to be involved in this and how our predecessors must've felt in the 30s when they turned those lights on. You know, I get calls every day from members who say, "Oh please Melissa, tell me you're coming." I have one who promised to bribe me with elderberry syrup to my office, fresh off of her farm and . . .
Christopher Mitchell: You have to make sure you're revisiting that conflict of interest policy, I think.
Melissa Gay: Exactly, exactly. But I get those calls all the time, you know, and they're telling me just how this is going to be such a life changing experience for them. And they tell me about, you know, how they've wanted to pursue their degree, their first degree or you know even their second degree if they want to do a masters or beyond; and how they've wanted to work from home and they're renting a space, you know, right in town so they can get the Internet, so that they can live their dream and live where they want to live, but they have to still commute within their own town to a place that has that Internet; and how I'm going to change their lives and we're going to save them money; and how their kids won't move back here because they don't have the Internet, so they're staying in the rural areas and their families are split. So for me, the biggest surprise was just how satisfying it would be. And I knew it would be impactful, but I don't think I truly ever grasped the human element of this, the real piece of the member-centric goal here of getting Internet into those homes. So I have loved that — and the partnership. The members have offered to lobby on the hill. They want to lobby to their local representatives. They want to write letters and really get involved in, you know, deciding their fate here for that. And that has been exciting as well as just partnering and meeting more of our politicians and our local representatives and again, helping them to see what we're doing and that we're part of the solution.
Christopher Mitchell: Gary, did you want to share any of those stories?
Gary Wood: One set of stories is around the access to members' property. When you get out in rural areas, people are very protective of their privacy and of their property, and there are times where it's difficult for the electric co-op to plan to be on lines just to upgrade pole lines because people are concerned about us driving through when there are crops in the ground or they're concerned about us having access and who it is that will be behind their house and in their field. And we know that there are a few of those members out on our lines. We've had several of them meet the contractors as they're first out working on the fiber project. One of them met them at a gate that was locked, and the crews are trying to figure out how to get through, and he came up to them and said, "The gate's locked and it'll stay locked and you won't come on my land. I don't allow co-op people here." And he had a conflict that went back several years where he thought he hadn't been treated fairly related to a billing. He in fact used my name and said, "You can call Mr. Wood and tell him that once he resolves my issue and my money is returned—" It was about $85 he thought he was owed. He said, "Then we can talk about whether you get here." So the next day one of our employees went by and talked to him, and they went by and told him that we understood his issues and we wouldn't need to get on his property because he would've been the only one we would've served off of that fiber and that we didn't want to bother him, we wouldn't build that fiber. And he said, "wait a minute, you were coming on to build the — is this the Internet service?" And he said, "Tell the crews to be out there tomorrow morning. I'll have the gate open and coffee waiting for them." So it kind of changed his view of the co-op again. And we had another gentleman who showed up when there was some underground work going in on his job, and he showed up and didn't stop to hear about what it was for and asked the guy leave the property immediately. He was very upset that they had come in and not first knocked on his door and scheduled everything with him, and he was the same way. The day after, when he heard that it was for the fiber, he called back and said, "Tell that crew to come back over and let's keep this thing moving." So, it's such an important service for these folks that people who otherwise are really careful and standoffish about who is on their property are waving folks in, just saying, please, let's get here and get started. That tells me something about the desire for that service, and there's so many different reasons for it: for the education side, certainly for entertainment purposes, for telemedicine, whether that is people who just want to use some of the teledoc type applications on their phones. They don't have good cell phone coverage and if they have Wi-Fi, they can use a cell phone, go online, and have a doctor prescribe medicine for them without having to go out to a clinic that may be 30 miles away and sit in a waiting room with other sick people. Just a lot of different purposes. Everyone has been welcoming to us. We've done about 700 miles of construction on make ready. We're a little behind that as far as the total fiber because of the order everything has to be built in. But we've had 700 miles that we've had trucks on doing work, preparing for the fiber to come after them, and from that we've had one consumer, one member who has asked us not to be on his property. So that's a pretty incredible number in today's world.
Christopher Mitchell: Those are really interesting stories. I actually hadn't heard that level of interest before. There's one municipal utility in Tennessee that had said that they were so well liked in providing this service that sometimes their workers would be greeted with offers of a beer from the homeowner, which they wanted to discourage.
Gary Wood: Yes, and it wouldn't surprise me if some of our contractors haven't had some offers. I haven't heard all of them, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Christopher Mitchell: They may not tell you about that one. So there's a lot of really good individual stories that you and Melissa have shared, but I'm curious about the overall take rate that you're seeing in areas. You know, for instance, the pilot area — what did you see in terms of the total amount of interest?
Gary Wood: Well, if we look at our first substation, we had essentially three circuits out of the substation. Two of those had no incumbent providers with any real options, just the wireless and the satellite and maybe a little bit of cell phone use. On the third circuit, there was an area where there was a little more high speed, a little bit of cable availability. So if you take the two circuits that had no other existing options, we're at 50 percent on initial signups, which is well in excess of the 35 percent our feasibility study assumed for the first two years.
Christopher Mitchell: Okay.
Gary Wood: So that was just a really good take rate for the first time through. When you consider a lot of these folks, we had people who'd never had any type of Internet service because they just didn't have anything available, and we still have some who are trying to figure out what do you do when you have broadband — how do I use it?
Christopher Mitchell: You invite the grandkids over.
Gary Wood: Exactly, exactly.
Melissa Gay: Even with an email — can you help me set up an email account?
Gary Wood: Right. I understand I need the Internet, but now how do I use it? We're very happy with that. In the area where we had a competitor who was already there, we're about 35 or 36 percent, so we still did very well. We met our goal for the areas without competitors in the areas where we did have competitors. And we had assumed that we'd have a lower take rate in the areas where there were already people who had options, but there's a lot of demand. We're still seeing signups in that area, even though we've gotten beyond that initial build out, and now we'll go back and put people in and connect people. A couple of weeks at a time, we'll go down and put a little group on together, and people are still signing up. We expect that to continue on really for years, adding another two to three or four on a circuit per week.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I'll bet. One of the things that we see is that there's a continual growth, and that's fueled in part by the fact that you probably will see very little churn. You won't have hardly any disconnects, so word of mouth will get around and . . .
Gary Wood: Yeah. As of today, we started people online last year in December, and I am not aware of a single disconnect.
Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that's impressive, especially since you're facing competition in some of those. Often you'll see a real price war effort, but you know, with reputation that your co-op has, you probably won't have to worry too much.
Gary Wood: Right. Yeah, I'm sure going forward we'll see some, but it has surprised us. We anticipated that we would have good demand and a lot of interest. It's surprised us that it's been a little better and that it's been as consistent across the board. When we moved to our second area that we were building in, there was some fiber that the county had built in a portion of that area.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. That'd be Nelson County, I'm guessing, right?
Gary Wood: In Nelson County, yeah. And yet, we are still seeing take rates over 30 percent in areas where members have had options to connect to fiber.
Christopher Mitchell: Were you going to buy the Nelson County network?
Gary Wood: Well, we went to the local counties and asked them to consider incentive packages for us, and as we talked to the different counties, some of them had different ways to approach it. Nelson County offered instead of giving us a financial incentive, they offered to transfer at no cost the 70 plus miles of fiber that they had built over the last eight years or so, so we accepted that. It has been built with grant money for the most part, so it comes with no debt. It does have to be operated as open access network, a portion of it that was built with grant dollars, because that was one of the requirements of the grant. And we'll have to operate it as open access for about another 10 years to meet the grant requirements, and then we'll have the fiber after that to do with as we please. That's a little quirk that's just special to Nelson County, and it was their way of offering us an incentive to build out in all of the electric co-op area and to reach just beyond the co-op area where we can to extend service to others.
Christopher Mitchell: It's a fascinating story and I'm thrilled because stories like this are what's going to bring the connectivity we need to everyone in the country. As we're wrapping up, let me ask you, Melissa, is there anything else that you wanted to share that I didn't ask you about?
Melissa Gay: I would echo Gary's sentiment for all of the partnership with our employees across the cooperative and just taking on a subsidiary, reopening our subsidiary and introducing a whole different set of employees yet sharing the member base. And I think that, you know, non-regulated states don't share in that experience, but being in Virginia and for an electric utility, not to be able to offer the Internet and they can only offer electric service. For states that are regulated, I would say that that was a new experience for us as well. CVEC has had a subsidiary in operation multiple times, but it didn't employ a whole different set of employees. And so that has been a unique experience for us and one that has really helped us to grow and bring on a whole new set of employees. So for me, that has been a unique piece of this as well, just dealing with and introducing and embracing a new set of employees. However, the customers are the same, so your electric customers right now are also your Internet customers. So we're sharing those people and sharing experiences with those people and impacting two sides of their lives: electricity and Internet.
Christopher Mitchell: It's . . . I assume it's like trade offs. There's some benefits and negatives about having to form the subsidiary, but I appreciate that you're looking at it as a, you know, positive story.
Melissa Gay: They're certainly making it happen. Without those folks to sign up and schedule all of the services — and they have a whole new billing, you know, that they have to take on, so we really appreciate that they are there to take trouble calls and question calls. And so that has been a unique experience, like I said, for a regulated versus a non-regulated state.
Christopher Mitchell: Right. Gary, is there anything, any comments you wanted to share?
Gary Wood: The other overarching feeling and thoughts that I have about our start into this whole project has been how positive it's been for all the people that it's touched. Certainly for the members who are getting broadband Internet service, they're extremely happy. For the local politicians, even the elected officials at the state level and the federal level, they're struggling to find a solution to rural broadband, and they're embracing electric co-ops and seeing with our project and several others in the state and a number of them across the nation, that electric co-ops are a big part of the solution for rural broadband; that we know something about infrastructure in the rural areas and we can take on big projects that have very low margins in the out years and make them successful; and that our employees, um, have taken it on knowing that there's extra work, there's more material moving through, that there are more contractors in the area, more phone calls coming in, and embracing that because they see what it's doing to change people's lives. It really has created a good feeling that goes throughout the project. People are more patient, even though they are tense times whether it's with members or with our employees or with our contractors and with the folks who are helping provide some of the funding and support. VDOT, our local Department of Transportation has been very helpful in trying to help us make sure we get our permits timely because they see the need. Everybody wants to be part of the project. They want to be part of the success story. They want to be part of the solution to provide rural broadband. It's a daunting task when you first take it on. It's a whole new business for us, but I feel like we've done it very successfully. We've had really good consultants, we've had really good contractors, and really across the board, everybody wants it to be a success and they're all willing to play a part in it. It's just been a really positive story for us.
Christopher Mitchell: Well, I really appreciate your time today. I think I've kept you longer than I promised, but it's been a great discussion with a lot of interesting things that we haven't heard from other projects that I would have thought were pretty similar. So thank you for taking the time today.
Gary Wood: Absolutely. Thank you, Chris.
Lisa Gonzalez: That was Melissa Gay and Gary Wood from the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules Podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thank you for listening to episode 358 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.