Three years ago, Firefly Fiber Broadband started with five customers connected, and none of them had paid a bill yet.
Now, Firefly, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative’s internet subsidiary, has crossed the 10,000-customer mark and it’s nowhere near finishing the task of bringing broadband to tens of thousands of customers across rural Virginia,
“This is an important milestone,” Gary Wood, president and CEO of CVEC and Firefly, said at an Oct. 21 ceremony recognizing the 10,000th hookup. “Our entire team of CVEC and Firefly employees, our design partner Conexon, and our fiber contractor, S&N Communications, have been instrumental in crossing this hurdle so quickly.
“We want to take a moment to celebrate the success and to thank our subscribers, but we have no intention of slowing down when there are so many more rural locations in central Virginia without a broadband option. We pledge to keep moving as fast as we can until we achieve universal service in our area.”
The event, held at CVEC’s Palmyra district office, brought together members of the CVEC and Firefly boards, local and state elected officials, contractors, lenders and business partners who have been critical to the company’s success.
“This is monumental. I can’t say how much it means to Fluvanna County,” said Mike Sheridan, chairman of the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors, whose constituents are in line for 100 percent access to broadband. “I’m a 35-year teacher. That means the world to our kids.”
Del. Lee Ware, whose 65th District includes much of the Firefly territory, said it is important to have a local company providing broadband because it means economic development and local control.
“To have a mobile company connected to the community delivery is so important,” he said, citing a constituent in Goochland County who lacks meaningful access to landline or cell service.
“This will quite literally be a lifeline for her,” Ware said. “I hear from people and I see the smiles of anticipation.”
Eventually, the $120 million investment will bring high-speed internet to all of CVEC’s 38,000 members. Partnerships with other electric cooperatives, Dominion Energy and local governments will expand Firefly beyond CVEC’s service territory.
Evan Feinman, chief broadband adviser to Gov. Ralph Northam, said efforts like those of Firefly have more than halved the number of Virginia households that lack access to broadband in less than four years.
“It’s a huge, impactful thing and it’s only possible with partners like Gary and the [CVEC] board members who were willing to go out and take the chances to help those in need,” he said.
Capping off the event was a $30,000 donation to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank on behalf of the cooperative lender CoBank and S&N Communications, a major wired and wireless infrastructure company, and Firefly. It is part of Firefly’s RISE to the Challenge initiative,
Millie Winstead, director of development for the Verona, Va.-based good bank, said the contribution will be massive in providing 120,000 meals across 25 counties and eight cities.
“Something that has come through loud and clear as I’ve been talking with you and listening to these stories is that this is a group that is all about community,” she said.
—Report by Steven Johnson, Vice President, Communications, VMD Association
Above photo: Gary Wood, president and CEO of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative and Firefly, explains how Firefly has brought broadband to 10,000 customers. (Photo By: Steven Johnson)