EMPOWER Broadband, Inc. recently reached a significant milestone, connecting its 5,000th customer to high-speed broadband service utilizing fiber-optic technology.

The telecommunications company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC), currently serves subscribers in Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, and Greensville counties. Established in 2018, EMPOWER is steadily growing, helping close the digital divide and changing the lives and communities of the families, farms and businesses it proudly serves.

“As we celebrate this important milestone, EMPOWER is a shining example of all that is possible,” said John Lee, president and CEO of EMPOWER and MEC. “Since EMPOWER’s inception, we have faced challenges posed by a worldwide pandemic, supply chain disruptions and severe inflation, but through sheer will and unwavering determination, our team has worked tirelessly to get to this point.

“As EMPOWER continues to grow, so does the demand for our services,” he continued. “It took 31 months from the day EMPOWER was formed to connect our first 1,000 customers and another year to hit the 2,000 mark. In the past year alone, we have connected an additional 3,000 subscribers. It has been truly remarkable to watch this fledgling rural broadband company evolve from being just a dream to a reality.”

Keenen and Christopher Broome, of Littleton, N.C., were EMPOWER’S 5,000th connection. The couple owns two homes in Ebony, which are occupied by their grown children. Keenen commented, “I grew up in Ebony and when I heard fiber was coming to the area, I was very excited. From the first time I called about the service until the day they hooked it up, everyone I spoke with was very knowledgeable and professional. When I informed my kids that they were getting fiber internet, they were ecstatic. Before, if they wanted to stream movies or play online games, they were driving back to our house to do so.”

Bill Cratch, of Gasburg, is one of EMPOWER’s earliest and most enthusiastic customers, stating that he and his wife love it. “It’s better than a new car!” he exclaims. “It allows us to do so many things, like TV, online banking, and so much more. We have 57 different items, including 11 TVs, hooked to it. It is a life-changer for the people in our rural area and we are so blessed to have fiber optic.”

Sharon Mosley, owner of Mosley Medical Taxi Transporting Services in Red Oak, says EMPOWER has made a 100% improvement for her, both at work and at home since they became subscribers in 2020. Her daughter, Shelby Roberts, agrees. “The EMPOWER internet service has made a significant difference in the way we do our work; we can run multiple computers which speeds up our work processes. Now it’s like living in a big city. For our personal use, we have our phones and TVs connected, we stream movies and shows, and we have our Wi-Fi cameras connected for security purposes, which was impossible before with the satellite internet options we had.”

Nick Long of Virgilina, connected in 2022, also offers effusive praise for his internet service. “EMPOWER Broadband changed our way of life, and that’s not an understatement – it is a fact. Prior to our EMPOWER Broadband service being connected, the internet I had was not reliable. We tried all the possible solutions available to us, but nothing was dependable. Then, upon connection to EMPOWER Broadband’s service, it was like turning the page. The same fast options that we experienced in our workplaces were available in our Red Bank home,” he said. “Our youngest daughter, Kayleigh, is chasing her dreams in Los Angeles and previously, when she came home, she felt like she was returning to the dark ages. Since we connected to EMPOWER, she can work remotely from Virgilina, making it possible for her to make even longer and less stressful visits home. She says she can work with the same efficiency as she does in L.A., and that’s saying something.”

EMPOWER Broadband continues to expand services to additional homes and businesses, with multiple project areas across MEC’s service territory currently under construction. EMPOWER’s fiber network now includes nearly 1,300 miles of fiber and passes over 17,500 homes, businesses and churches within 2,000 feet of mainline fiber with a goal of reaching 100% deployment of over 3,500 miles and passing some 35,000 addresses over the next three years.

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), who has long championed broadband technology as a proven job creator and economic stimulus, commented, “When I was in Mecklenburg County in August, I heard directly from Virginians about the good work EMPOWER Broadband is doing to expand coverage across Southside. I’m glad to see EMPOWER celebrate the huge milestone of 5,000 connections.”

Warner contends that expanding broadband access helps level the playing field for rural communities by creating short-term jobs, promoting longer-term economic opportunities, as well as enhancing access to online education and other public services and helping local businesses compete across the global marketplace.

“I will continue to build on the successes of the seismic bipartisan infrastructure law and advocate for every federal dollar available for broadband so our electric cooperatives can continue the critical work to get Virginia closer to universal coverage,” he stated.

“It is a busy yet exciting time here at EMPOWER,” said Lee. “Deploying fiber to many of our rural communities has been quite an undertaking due to low population density and extensive construction areas, and yet, EMPOWER’s team is successfully hitting our established milestones. The approach we have taken to this project has been both prudent and methodical, the same approach that we have used at MEC for over 85 years to offer excellent service, maintain a strong fiscal position and keep rates affordable. We’re making great progress at EMPOWER and are excited to continue transforming the digital landscape in southside Virginia and take pride in the fact that we are steering growth and innovation for a better quality of life for our communities.”

Not only does EMPOWER proudly offer cutting-edge broadband service and exceptional customer service, the telecommunications company participates in programs to ensure that no one is left behind due to cost: the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which offers free internet access to households that qualify, and the Line Extension Customer Assistance Program (LECAP), which is designed to support the extension of existing broadband networks to low-to-moderate-income residents. Information for both programs can be found at empowermec.net under the Residential tab.

EMPOWER encourages those interested in service to visit empowermec.net and click Check Availability on the top menu bar. Follow the steps to view current eligibility, apply for service or to register interest for future construction. EMPOWER’s construction update is refreshed as new projects begin and interested persons are encouraged to follow those updates for the most accurate project updates.

–Report by Dolores Cabaniss, Public Relations Specialist, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative.