Empower Broadband and the Southside Planning District Commission have submitted a grant application to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative to provide universal fiber-to-the-home broadband coverage.

The work would be conducted over a 36-month timeline to remaining unserved and underserved areas in the counties of Brunswick, Halifax and Mecklenburg, and the southern portion of Charlotte.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, Empower was recently awarded the bid to complete a fiber-to-the-premise solution in response to SPDC’s request for proposals to provide high-speed internet service to its three-county member jurisdictions Brunswick, Halifax, and Mecklenburg Counties.

As the SPDC, and its counties, sought to provide the strongest VATI application possible, they elected to include the southern portion of Charlotte County, who had independently conducted its own RFP, also won by Empower.

“Empower’s team, including its board of directors and staff, envisioned this round of funding as an extraordinary prospect to complete our mission of bringing desperately needed broadband service to the unserved areas of Southside Virginia,” said Empower President and CEO John C. Lee Jr. commented. “Our entry into this business was prompted by our membership, and we have taken a structured approach to this point that has positioned us very well to take advantage of this significant opportunity.”

Empower has completed the initial 135-mile fiber backbone supported by Mecklenburg County in a 2018 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission. That backbone has served as the foundation for the further expansion of the highspeed network across the region.

The grant application includes a projected cost of $73 million to deploy 785 miles of fiber passing 9,085 locations in Mecklenburg County. The county has approved a match of $3 million with Empower and others providing $37 million with a matching request to the VATI program at $33 million.

The grant application also includes a projected cost of $61 million to deploy 810 miles of fiber passing 4,007 locations in Halifax County.

The grant application includes a projected cost of $33 million to deploy 405 miles of fiber passing 3445 locations in Brunswick County. Additionally, includes a projected cost of $6.5 million to deploy 88 miles of fiber passing 434 locations in southern Charlotte County.

Projected capital costs to serve the four-county area covered by the application, over a three-year period, totals $175 million, elevating the need for a significant matching share from the VATI program. The SPDC plans to submit a request to state for just over $78 million to reach nearly 17,000 premises that suffer with woefully inadequate broadband.

—Report by Priscilla Lawson Whirley, Communications Specialist, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative/EMPOWER Broadband

Above Photo: Representatives of Empower Broadband and the Southside Planning District Commission sign off on a major grant proposal to bring broadband to needy areas.