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Co-ops Make New Jobs Possible with Fiber in Southern Virginia
Lawrenceville, Virginia, only has around 1,000 people living in the community, but they anticipate a boost in jobs in the near future, thanks to the local electric co-op, a partnership, and fiber optic connectivity.
Small-Town Guys Getting It Done
Virginia Business reports that Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is in the process of wiring a former bank facility with Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) in order for the next tenant to use the building as a call center. Echo World Communications, based in Bedford County, will take up residence and bring approximately 152 new jobs to Lawrenceville.
According to Virginia Business:
It never would have happened if the building couldn’t have been equipped with high-speed, reliable Internet, says Michael Dotti, business director of the Brunswick County Industrial Development Authority. “It’s a huge amount of technology. This was like small-town guys getting it done.”
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is wiring the bank building this fall at no cost to Brunswick, with funding from Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. (MBC), which started in 2004 as a cooperative to bring fiber-optic networks to rural Virginia. The broadband cooperative also has installed about 90 miles of fiber cables in six Southern Virginia counties, with 45 more miles planned by the end of 2020.
This isn't the first time we've seen these two entities partner to expand access to broadband in southern Virginia. About two years ago, we reported on a project similar to the one in Lawrenceville in which MEC and MBC connected last mile and middle mile fiber to reduce costs and reach more premises.
The Virginia Business article also mentions that MEC is looking to acquire a local telephone cooperative, if the telephone co-op members approve.
MEC also has proposed the purchase of Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative (BIT) by MEC affiliate Empower Broadband. The merger is contingent on BIT’s 4,500 customers, who have been asked to submit votes by Nov. 13.
Another Cooperative FTTH Pilot In Virginia
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) plans to partner with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) to extend Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to member residences and businesses in southern Virginia. MEC’s project is yet another effort from rural cooperatives to bring high-quality connectivity to regions that don’t have the same options as urban communities.
Another Electric Cooperative Expanding To Broadband Services
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is a not-for-profit energy provider headquartered in Chase City, Virginia. MEC is a member of a regional electric cooperative Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), which provides wholesale electric services to 11 member cooperatives in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. MEC is currently providing electric distribution service to residents, businesses, and other institutions in nine Virginia counties and five North Carolina counties.
In September, MEC board of directors approved a plan to upgrade fiber optic network infrastructure to connect 27 substations and the three district offices. The upgrade will afford MEC the opportunity to implement a FTTH pilot project to connect member residences and businesses.
MEC plans to initially connect 47 miles of fiber to offices in Gretna and Chase City and seven substations. In the future, MEC would connect offices in Chase City, Ebony and Emporia. In total, the intended fiber optic network would pass within 1,000 feet of 3,000 member residences and businesses in 6 counties.
President & CEO of MEC John C. Lee, Jr.
“It would be inconceivable for us to deploy fiber that will pass right by the homes of many of our members and not make every effort to share that service with them, especially given that our members have waited patiently for access to the same high-quality internet service enjoyed by those in urban areas…they have waited long enough and they should never have to settle for less”
MBC Partnering To Bring Internet Home For VA School Kids
The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporations (MBC), a broadband cooperative with member communities in Virginia, recently announced that a new project will bring Internet access to students at home to help close the “homework gap” in Charlotte and Halifax counties.
Homework At Home
Approximately half of the K-12 students in the two southern counties don’t have Internet access at home, interfering with their ability to hone the skills they need for future success. To address the issue, MBC and its partner Microsoft obtained funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and will implement the project which reach 1,000 households and approximately 3,000 students. Students will be able to tap into their schools’ networks to access online assignments and resources from home. The service will be free.
The project is an expansion of a pilot program based on white space technology, which we’ve written about before. White space technology has been used in similar projects by libraries in New York, North Carolina, Colorado, and Mississippi to extend Internet access to communities where people have limited access. White space technology isn’t interrupted by dense forests or hills, so works in the Halifax and Charlotte county terrain.
Better Connectivity, Better Economy
MBC formed in 2004 as an open access network, funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. The network also received American Recovery and Reinvestment Award (ARRA) funding in order to connect schools and community anchor institutions in southern Virginia and to extend the reach of the network even further. The network now consists of more than 1,800 miles in 31 counties.
Virginia's Roanoke Valley Opens Fiber Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 221
Having few options for high-quality telecommunications service, Virginia's Roanoke Valley formed a broadband authority and is building an open access fiber-optic network with different options for ISPs to plug-in. In addition to being our guest on Community Broadband Bits episode 221, Frank Smith is the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority CEO and President. We discuss their various options for ISPs to use their infrastructure and the various services their network is providing, including access to conduit and dark fiber leases. We also discuss why they formed a state authority to build their carrier-grade network. Though they have had some pushback from incumbents - something Frank seems unphased by in calling the Authority "the new kid on the block" - they have built local support by building relationships with local organizations like Blue Ridge PBS. Read all of our Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority coverage here.
This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed.
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Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to mojo monkeys for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Bodacious."
Our "Open Access Networks" Resources Page Now Available
When communities decide to proceed with publicly owned infrastructure, they often aim for open access models. Open access allows more than one service provider to offer services via the same infrastructure. The desire is to increase competition, which will lower prices, improve services, and encourage innovation.
It seems straight forward, but open access can be more complex than one might expect. In addition to varying models, there are special challenges and financing considerations that communities need to consider.
In order to centralize our information on open access, we’ve created the new Open Access Networks resource page. We’ve gathered together some of our best reference material, including links to previous MuniNetworks.org stories, articles from other resources, relevant Community Broadband [no-glossary]Bits[/no-glossary] podcast episodes, case studies, helpful illustrations, and more.
- Open Access Arrangements
- Financing Open Access Networks
- Challenges for Open Access Networks
- U.S. Open Access Networks
- Planned Open Access Networks
Check it out and share the link. Bookmark it!
Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Moving Forward
After multiple delays, the much anticipated Roanoke-Salem fiber network in Virginia has its feet on the ground. The network has secured an executive director who will provide greater project oversight and find Internet service providers (ISPs) to operate on the open access network.
Now that the project is under way, it is moving at a rapid pace. The Broadband Authority already secured a contract for $2.9 million to lay the conduit for the fiber optic cable, and crews are already at work. By year’s end, the project should finally be complete.
Two years ago, a completion date seemed far-fetched. The cities of Roanoke and Salem and the counties of Roanoke and Botetourt met to discuss the growing problem of poor Internet access in the region. The area had the reputation for being in a "doughnut hole" - too large to qualify for federal grants but too sparsely populated to attract investment from large telecom providers. The city of Roanoke, for instance, ranked 409th out of 429 US metropolitan areas for basic Internet access.
Biloxi and Mississippi Gulf Coast Towns Pursuing Fiber Initiative
Community leaders in the city of Biloxi want to expand massive water and sewer infrastructure improvements to include broadband infrastructure. The City Attorney Gerald Blessey recently addressed members from the Leadership Gulf Coast group and during the speech he shared the idea to spread fiber throughout Biloxi.
Mayor FoFo Gilich has already spoken with the Governor who, reports WXXV 25, is interested in the idea. Streets in town are being excavated for the water and sewer project and Gilich wants to use this opportunity to install conduit and fiber.
Biloxi recently settled a lawsuit for just under $5 million with British Petrolium (BP) for economic losses arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Community leaders consider fiber a strong investment to help the area recover.
“And not only is it going to be economic development, but it’s going to be quality of life. Our school system needs this. The medical system needs this. The casino industry needs this,” said [Vincent Creel, city of Biloxi Public Affairs Manager].
The Biloxi plan may be happening in coordination with a larger initiative to bring fiber to the coastal area. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Fiber Ring would link 12 cities along the southern coast; each community would determine their own level of service.
The Sun Herald reports that Governor Phil Bryant has offered an additional $15 million in BP state settlement funds to deploy fiber. While any network is still in the idea stage, the plan will likely involve establishing a nonprofit organization to own and operate the fiber ring.
The Coast counties need the economic development a fiber network could bring. According to the Sun Herald:
Since Hurricane Katrina, the recession and oil spill, the three Coast counties are down 2,700 jobs compared to the pre-recession numbers of 2008, and down 5,600 jobs compared to pre-Hurricane Katrina in 2005, [Blessey] said.
Improving Mid-Atlantic Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 146
Broadband Boosts Economy in Southern Virginia
Martinsville, located in south central Virginia within Henry County, is home to about 14,000 people, 10% fewer than in 2000. The town built a city-owned fiber optic network to connect local businesses and spur economic development in cooperation with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative.
The backbone of the Martinsville Information Network (MINET), consists of 48 strands of fiber and it connects schools, municipal sites, and local businesses. Back in 2009, the City estimated it was saving between $130,000 to $150,000 each year by not having to lease telephone services.
“It’s one of the best investments the city has made,” [Mike] Scaffidi said in a February WorkItScoVA.com article by Tara Bozick.
Scaffidi, the City Telecommunications Director, has good reason for his praise. The 20 mile fiber optic network has been quietly growing for about 10 years and has been recognized as a key to economic development.
Recently, the network has attracted businesses like Faneuil, which relies heavily on data, voice, and video streaming, for their call center in Martinsville. Other companies that connect to MiNet include Mehler Technologies, American Distribution and Warehousing, and SPARTA Inc., a defense contractor. SPARTA, which was recently acquired by Parsons, credited the network for attracting them to the town.
MiNet connects with the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative network (MBC), which connects to communties all over the county. The combined efforts of MiNet and MBC preceded the announcement that more jobs were coming to a local industrial park. From the article:
…[W]orking with MBC to get fiber to the area’s industrial parks is paying off to bring jobs, especially with the announcement last year that ICF International, a Fairfax-based professional and technology services firm, would create 539 jobs in Patriot Centre…