EMPOWER Broadband, the recently incorporated provider of high-speed broadband service in Southside Virginia, hosted a Launch Party on September 20 to celebrate its first three retail broadband connections. The casual luncheon was held at the outdoor pavilion of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC), the holding company of EMPOWER Broadband.
Chairman of the EMPOWER Broadband board of directors, David Jones, welcomed political representatives, community leaders, educational and agricultural officials, members of the press, business associates, EMPOWER Broadband directors, and customers, who were recently connected to the ultra-high speed broadband service.
“Today, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, and its subsidiary EMPOWER Broadband, announce we are, at this very moment, delivering a new service to homes in this rural community,” he said. “We are here to celebrate EMPOWER’s initial phase of deploying the best of the best fiber broadband to this rural region we call home,” referring to Fiber to the Home (FTTH) and the “newest utility” provided by MEC.
Several dignitaries addressed the group of people numbering close to 90, conveying congratulations on the formation of this business that offers broadband television, telephone, and internet service and expressing appreciation for the role that EMPOWER Broadband is playing in providing life-changing improvements through technology for the citizens of Southside Virginia.
Evan Feinman, executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and Governor Northam’s chief broadband advisor, stated that it was an easy decision to approve a $2.6 million grant to Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative to finance the deployment of fiber to the premises along the fiber ring that connects the cooperative’s substations and district offices. “Broadband internet service is a necessity economically, socially, and politically,” he stated, “and two-thirds of rural areas in Virginia don’t have access.” He continued by stating that opportunities for children in Virginia should not be determined by whether they are raised in urban areas or rural…“That shouldn’t be!” he emphasized. “Mecklenburg’s application was an easy decision for the Commission because the cooperative is an organization that will take the money and do what they say they are going to do. We have complete faith in Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and are pleased to make the grant available for its project.”
“Our students need to learn computer sciences and coding,” stated Paul Nichols, division superintendent of Mecklenburg County Public Schools, as he addressed attendees at the Launch Party. “Technology is transforming our whole economy, and students need to get involved early. They need broadband—the lack of high-speed internet is an educational disadvantage to our students. The service provided by EMPOWER Broadband is needed for students to be successful in a global economy.”
Brad Copenhaver, deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry for the Commonwealth of Virginia, emphasized how broadband internet service assists farmers in making vital decisions and improving efficiency based on current prices, weather information, harvesting, data on watering systems or other equipment as well as the health and breeding of livestock. He also mentioned that through technology smart farms have the capability of being alerted to problems with equipment.
Manager of TechSpark Virginia at Microsoft, Jeremy Satterfield, was next on the agenda and summed up the thoughts of the day in a simple statement. “Broadband is no longer considered a luxury.” He went on to mention that he was talking to a realtor three years ago who told him that one of the top questions being asked of them when showing real estate is, “Is there broadband available?” Satterfield continued, “Potential homeowners are asking if there is broadband available . . . not how strong are the schools?. . or how close is the nearest hospital?. . or is the neighborhood safe? Unfortunately, many of the local real estate offices here have to say ‘no.’ This is why I’m so pleased to be here celebrating the launch with Mecklenburg Electric today. A project like EMPOWER Broadband will bring connectivity to homes in Southern Virginia, some for the very first time. These newly connected homes represent home-based businesses and content creators, not just consumers of the internet. These newfound opportunities represent economic development dollars throughout the region. I am delighted that Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative has stepped up to the plate for its residents.”
Robert Sloan, Microsoft’s director of Data Center Community Development announced his employer’s partnership with EMPOWER Broadband and debuted a video that stresses the technology giant’s support of the cooperative’s Fiber-To-The-Home effort. He stated that he and Microsoft knew the cooperative team well that their passion would no doubt render the project successful and that Microsoft wants to “be a part of that effort.”
Three homes in the Chase City area have been connected by EMPOWER Broadband service thus far, and all report remarkable speeds. Bill Wilson and his wife, Debra, are both educators and they spoke on what a valuable tool their new internet service is in assisting them in their professions, enabling them access to school servers, educational videos, webinars, and research.
Christy Dodd said her new service is faster than the jet pack service she had which, incidentally, she canceled the same day that her broadband was connected. Her husband, Marvin, who enjoys automotive hobbies, reaches out to people on the West Coast for information utilizing the new service saying simply, “It’s awesome!”
Amanda Jordan, who was connected on September 6, testifies that her new broadband connection is “a whole lot faster than her satellite service.” During the torrential rains from Hurricane Florence, she said her satellite went down, but the fiber broadband stayed connected. “I was able to keep up with what was going on from the storm and I couldn’t be happier with the speed!” she remarked.
EMPOWER Broadband President and CEO John C. Lee, Jr., began his closing remarks by thanking all who “have helped usher in a new era of internet access for Southside Virginia” and to all in attendance for sharing this special occasion. He continued, “I would also like to thank those who serve the Commonwealth, on the Tobacco Commission…for their vision, and for providing us the opportunity to bring a much-needed necessity to Southside Virginia’s citizens. They have done so both through a recent grant to EMPOWER Broadband, and in their historical decision to fund Mid-Atlantic Broadband all those years ago. We thank you for considering our application, for listening to us, and most of all…for believing in us.”
Lee added, “We also extend our appreciation to our many partners including Microsoft, Mid-Atlantic Broadband, Mecklenburg County, and Wayne Carter, who were instrumental in our Tobacco Commission grant, and the many other entities and individuals who made today possible.”
Lee reminded listeners of the plight of rural America many years ago when no one wanted to build lines for electric service because there was no population density here, and compared it to today’s lack of high-speed broadband connectivity. “Ironically, Empower Broadband has been formed to bridge the same imbalances between rural and urban areas that Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative mitigated with its establishment in 1938, the only difference is the missing necessity…Broadband or Electricity.”
He further stated, “This organization, has the required resources, knows how to deploy fiber, knows how to maintain a great relationship with its customers, knows how to provide reliable service, and knows how to deliver value at an affordable cost. Our one and only mission for EMPOWER Broadband, right from the beginning, is to ensure that those we serve, Southside Virginians, have the same unbelievable opportunities afforded by access to the very best available Broadband technology that others in the state enjoy.”
In closing, Lee stated, “As I hope you can glean from today, we are excited about EMPOWER Broadband, and as its name implies, we are excited about the new possibilities its service will afford Southside Virginians. Most of all, we are excited about its potential to help return our region to its proud and once thriving legacy of natural beauty, economic strength, and a place without equal to live, work, and raise a family.”
As construction continues in each area, EMPOWER will provide specific information regarding service availability dates and information on how to subscribe to this new service. More information will also be forthcoming on future phases undertaken by EMPOWER Broadband.
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is the not-for-profit energy provider to over 31,000 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. For more information, visit the Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative website.