Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam visited Northern Neck Electric Cooperative on July 8 to celebrate the groundbreaking on the first phase of a project that will deliver fiber-optic broadband access to approximately 7,200 currently unserved households and businesses.

Gov. Ralph Northam, public and utility officials, and cooperative leaders break ground on the Northern Neck broadband project.

Northam participated with Dominion Energy Virginia, All Points Broadband and NNEC to break ground on the project, which will use a $10 million grant from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, along with federal and local funding and private investment.

Unserved locations in King George, Northumberland, Richmond and Westmoreland counties will benefit.

“Expanding access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet has been a top priority since the start of our administration—and the pandemic has only underscored the urgency in bridging the digital divide,” Northam said. “By leveraging federal, state, local investment and private capital, this project will bring connectivity and opportunity to rural, unserved communities in the Northern Neck. We need to think big to make universal broadband a reality in our commonwealth, and this regional initiative is exactly the type of unique partnership that will deliver on this promise.”

This partnership between electric utilities and broadband providers was made possible through a pilot program established by the General Assembly in 2019, which promotes collaboration between localities, electric utilities, and internet service providers to connect unserved areas to high-speed internet.

In just two years of the pilot program, Virginia’s utility companies have helped connect more than 13,000 homes and businesses. Earlier this year, Northam signed bipartisan legislation that makes the pilot program permanent.

“Bridging the digital divide is a complex challenge that requires new business models and new ways of thinking,” said Jimmy Carr, CEO of All Points Broadband. “The Northern Neck initiative is a model of what can be achieved through a combination of public-private and electric-utility partnerships, and we are excited to bring more projects like this one to fruition.”

Northern Neck Electric Cooperative will work alongside Dominion Energy and All Points Broadband to extend the network, improving their electric grid and power poles along the way.

“We are proud of the role Northern Neck Electric Cooperative has played to bring this project to today, and the example this initiative has set for other regions throughout Virginia,” said Brad Hicks, president and CEO of NNEC.

“We are pleased to see construction begin on this project to bring much needed broadband access to the Northern Neck,” said Sens. Ryan McDougle and Richard Stuart, and Delegate Margaret Ransone. “This critical service will improve quality of life and economic prosperity and help move our region forward.”