(Chase City) - EMPOWER Broadband, a subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC), is committed to extending fiber-to-the-premise internet connections to homes and businesses across Southside Virginia and, most recently, is fulfilling that mission through a partnership with Halifax County. In 2018, EMPOWER and MEC received a Tobacco Commission grant to build a 135-mile fiber backbone across southern Virginia and through Halifax County. Accordingly, EMPOWER’s strategic plan designates the utilization of this backbone to expand critical broadband service deeper into rural communities. Recently, EMPOWER successfully leveraged its investment in those completed facilities to acquire additional grants through the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Virginia Telecommunication Initiative.
In recognizing the urgent need to connect under-served residents, EMPOWER Broadband and the Halifax County Board of Supervisors have approved a project that will result in the expansion of the existing Empower fiber network to additional rural homes in the County.
In strong partnership with Halifax County, CARES Act funding was allocated to EMPOWER for the rapid deployment of fiber broadband and to help mitigate COVID challenges resulting from limited internet availability. The CARES funds carry a requirement that the services they are utilized to support, be made available within calendar year 2020. With this looming deadline in mind, EMPOWER developed a plan to aggressively deploy fiber in multiple small areas that will result in the deployment of 23 miles of fiber optic cable. This project makes fiber optic broadband service available to more than 550 rural accounts and provides those residents an option to address the challenges presented by remote learning and tele-work.
John C. Lee, Jr., EMPOWER Broadband’s President and CEO noted, “We’re pleased to expand our partnership with Halifax County and work together to provide the best in broadband service for our members, and the citizens there. Our shared mission is to aggressively meet the challenges brought on by the digital divide, which has been extraordinarily intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and has been devastating for education and business. This project will mitigate the lack of desperately needed connectivity in our rural communities and provide reliable and consistent high-speed broadband to both homes and businesses.”
Lee added. “EMPOWER’s fiber deployment is moving at an accelerated pace, and to meet the need and demand of our communities we’re adding additional crews and resources to undertake this project. Doing so accommodates our deadline and does so without disrupting our continuing focus in areas already slated for deployment. Our goal is to meet the needs of rural residents and deliver broadband service as quickly as possible… and every day, we’re doing just that … one home, one business, and one community at a time.”
This project will provide fiber connections to those along portions of Bethel Road, Burton Road, Clays Mill Road, Clays Mill School Road, Cole Lane, Cowford Road, Paul James Road, Sparrow Trail, Wagstaff Lane, and Winn’s Creek Road. EMPOWER is asking interested residents in those areas to confirm their eligibility and interest on its website as the proposed build area is subject to minor modification as field design and construction plans are developed.
Lee continued, “This partnership represents the best in community leaders working together with a caring corporate entity to meet the educational, employment, and economic development needs of the areas and residents we collectively serve. We applaud this dedicated effort by the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and County Staff who are working diligently to make broadband a reality for all their citizens and our rural members, rest assured, they are fully committed to making it happen…and so are we.”
Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson stated, “The impact of the pandemic clearly demonstrates our immense need for high speed broadband, whether for students or businesses. When considering CARES funding allocations, the pressing need for broadband rose as the top priority. We have been impressed by EMPOWER’s successes to bring fiber internet to our rural homes and partnering with them to deliver broadband to the citizens of Halifax County completes the shared goal of meeting the needs of our communities and residents.”
These areas designated for CARES funds are now open for registration at www.empowermec.net; interested residents are encouraged to access the website and click on the box beneath “Check Availability and Register Your Interest” to begin the process. Additionally, EMPOWER Broadband will be sending letters to those within the eligible area. Remember, residents should sign up immediately and encourage their neighbors to do the same so EMPOWER can get everyone connected during the grant period.
MEC’s subsidiary, EMPOWER Broadband, Inc., provides middle-mile capacity, retail high-speed internet service, as well as voice over IP telephony, high-speed data services, and advanced cloud-based solutions, to over 4,000 accounts in the cooperative’s service territory in Southside Virginia and northern North Carolina. For more information, please visit www.empowermec.net.