Cooperatives Work to Join Forces, Bring Fiber Broadband to Southside Virginia

IF Membership Votes Yes, EMPOWER Broadband Will Acquire BIT

Officials with Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative (BIT Communications) in Bracey and EMPOWER Broadband, Inc., a subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) in Chase City, have announced that the boards of directors of the two organizations have executed an agreement for EMPOWER to acquire BIT. This merger of resources would advance the deployment of high-speed fiber broadband internet and telephone services to BIT’s service area and across Southside Virginia. Discussions have been ongoing since 2017 between the boards of directors of both entities and the senior management teams, while extensive due diligence, including legal, financial, telecommunications plant, and staffing evaluations, has been conducted.

The agreement states that EMPOWER Broadband would acquire BIT, and its resources would be combined with EMPOWER’s to accelerate efforts in deploying services. The actual merger is contingent on the approval of the BIT membership and determined by a vote of the BIT members. The voting period will run from October 7 to November 13, and members can cast their votes electronically or by mail.

According to Michele Taylor, general manager of BIT, members of the 65-year-old cooperative have been contacted by letter, and email, notifying them of the agreement and recommending their approval. Taylor comments, “The board of directors and management staff of BIT encourage members to vote “YES” to the proposal because this merger will be very beneficial to our members as the deployment of long-awaited broadband internet service will gain momentum. The download/upload speeds that will be available in the basic package will be up to 50 Mbps. At these speeds, a 45-minute TV show can be downloaded in 30 seconds and a four-minute song can be downloaded in 6/10s of a second. This package supports the highest household demands.”

Taylor adds, “If this venture is approved by a majority vote of our membership, in addition to the availability of ultra-high-speed internet service and upgraded phone service, BIT members will also receive a check in the mail representing a lump-sum settlement of their remaining capital credits.”

EMPOWER Broadband, Inc., was established as a subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) to provide retail broadband service across MEC’s service area and was incorporated in January of this year. John C. Lee, Jr., president and CEO of both MEC and EMPOWER, agrees that the addition of BIT to EMPOWER will be of mutual benefit to the members of both organizations. “Deploying fiber is costly, and rural Southside Virginia lacks the population density required to interest large investor-owned companies in meeting this need,” he says, adding, “BIT and MEC have worked alongside each other as sister cooperatives for decades to meet the electric and telephone service commitments made to our common memberships. We’ll continue to meet both those responsibilities and there is no doubt that joining forces puts us in a stronger position to deliver a third critical service to our members…world-class internet access.”

Lee continues, “Working together will maximize efficiencies, minimize any duplication of service, and combine the collective strengths of the two organizations to more aggressively deploy fiber and offer the most reliable and fastest internet service to our members. And doing so will make a difference in Southside Virginia’s quality of life and ability to compete. We are bringing our members fiber…the best of the best broadband technology…and it’s time we stopped settling for less.”

About BIT

Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative, which was previously managed under contract by Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, became independent and established a business office in Bracey, Virginia, in 1978. The organization has strived to provide the latest quality telecommunications services and products at competitive prices. BIT serves members in parts of Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties in Virginia. A nine-member board of directors serves the members. For more information or to cast a vote, visit the Bit Broadband Website

About EMPOWER Broadband, Inc.

EMPOWER Broadband, Inc., was incorporated on January 30, 2019, as a subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC). Through a growing network of fiber optic cable, EMPOWER offers middle mile capacity and retail high-speed internet service to Southside Virginia and Northern North Carolina. EMPOWER Broadband, a for-profit business, is headquartered in Chase City, Virginia, and is governed by an 11-member board of directors. For more information, please visit the Empower Broadband Website.

About Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative is the not-for-profit energy provider to over 33,000 meters located in portions of the Virginia counties of Brunswick, Charlotte, Greensville, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Pittsylvania, Southampton, and Sussex and the North Carolina counties of Granville, Person, Northampton, Vance, and Warren. It is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative, headquartered in Chase City with district offices in Gretna, Emporia, and Chase City. MEC is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Visit the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative website for more information.