By Virginia’s Gateway Region
Nearly 34 million people in America lack access to high-speed internet, 23 percent of which live in rural areas overlooked and underserved by major wireless and cable providers. Prince George Electric Cooperative has finally developed an innovative, cost-effective solution for affordable, reliable broadband access in rural communities, leveling the playing field with their urban counterparts.
Established in 1938, the Prince George Electric Cooperative’s (PGEC) founders “acted on a vision of improved quality of life” to bring the comforts of automated overhead lighting and running water to rural Prince George and Sussex Counties for the first time. 80 years later, PGEC’s CEO Mike Malandro still encompasses these progressive values, acting on an altruistic vision to improve the area’s quality of life through broadband access.
Unveiled in October 2016, PGEC and its subsidiary PGEC Enterprises, LLC launched a pilot program that entails a last-mile, fiber-to-the-home model, bringing internet service to these unserved rural communities. This revolutionary process begins with the installation of a “smart grid” of large fibers connecting power substations across the service area. Using efficient tools, PGEC’s own linemen lay the “last-mile” of fiber, connecting individual homes and businesses directly to the smart grid.
PGEC Enterprises, LLC’s initial proof of concept connected 50 homes and public buildings along West Quaker Road at a modest cost of $82 per month for access to 30 Mbps with no data restrictions.
To date, nearly 150 customers have already been connected. Construction continues to connect the over 100 residents that have submitted applications for internet to the cooperative.
Prince George Electric Cooperative recently received an award for Innovative Practices from the Hopewell-Prince George Chamber of Commerce in February and was given a $1.25 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to expand their broadband service into Sussex County.
Combined with a $1 million grant from Prince George County awarded in 2017, PGEC has acquired the means to deliver broadband to 1,000 users. This brings the initiative to a self-sustaining level and allows for continued expansion at an expedited rate, addressing a critical need to the business and residential communities.
“High-speed internet has become the fourth utility,” said Mike Malandro, President & CEO at Prince George Electric Cooperative. “Access to broadband is imperative for this region to remain globally competitive for business and will simultaneously improve the local quality of life through its contribution to education, workforce development and more.”
Increased access to high-speed internet in the Gateway Region will most profoundly affect workforce development in rural areas along the education continuum, ranging from online primary school resources to professional credentialing. For instance, broadband access significantly lowers college tuitions, which translates into more students accessing talent pipeline programs. Deployment of broadband affords rural residents the ability to access online community college and four-year university courses, providing the area with a stronger workforce, which will ultimately attract more economic development opportunities.
“Broadband service across the Gateway Region will inevitably lead to greater opportunities for both our citizens and businesses,” said Emily Salmon, Interim President & CEO of Virginia’s Gateway Region. “I am grateful to have true visionaries at the helm of this effort, and I look forward to seeing the tremendous growth that is sure to come as a result of their dedication to bringing high-speed internet to the area.”