Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (l) and Casey Logan, president and CEO of Prince George Electric Cooperative, mark universal broadband coverage in Surry County. (Photo By: Gregg MacDonald)

Thanks in a large part to Prince George Electric Cooperative, Surry County recently became one of the first counties in Virginia to achieve universal broadband access.

On Aug. 27, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam spoke in person at the Surry Community Center and, along with PGEC President and CEO Casey Logan, cut the ribbon on the center’s Ruralband Community Education Room.

The room, which simulates a broadband-connected residential living room, is open to the public and showcases the advantages of being connected to the internet via fiber-optic cable.

Logan likened it to “cooperative kitchens” in the 1950s, which similarly showcased to rural Virginians the myriad advantages of being hooked up to an electric grid.

“That’s exactly what Ruralband has done here today with Surry County,” Logan said.

Northam told those assembled that when he first took office in 2018, roughly 600,000 Virginia families and businesses lacked access to broadband and only $4 million was budgeted for broadband expansion statewide.

He said he was able to raise that amount to $19 million in 2019.

“The following year, we raised it to $35 million; this year, we got it to $50 million,” Northam said, adding “I also made sure that when the money came in, Virginia was ready and able to act. These days, you cannot function without access to broadband.”

According to estimates from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, roughly 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college students in the state still lack access to broadband at home.

“[Surry County] has set the tone for the rest of Virginia. Congratulations for a job well done,” said Northam.

According to Logan, PGEC’s Ruralband subsidiary, in partnership with Dominion Energy, has extended fiber-optic infrastructure to nearly all the county’s population. The project is a more than $5.5 million investment for Ruralband.

“Surry County did not have any broadband connectivity in 2019,” he said. “By Halloween this year, all 4,100 homes and businesses in the county will have broadband available to them.”

Logan said that the project’s success was a culmination of state and local governments and electric co-ops all coming together to serve their communities.

“This would not have been possible without [PGEC’s] leadership,” added Surry County Administrator Melissa Rollins.

— Report by Gregg MacDonald, Staff Writer, VMDAEC