MEC-EMPOWER Broadband Brings High-Speed Internet to Halifax County

MEC-EMPOWER team members Bryan Soles, information technology administrator (left), and Dwayne Long, vice president of information technology, program equipment for deployment in the Crystal Hill substation to “light” five miles of installed fiber backbone in the Clays Mill and Crystal Hill areas. Long states, “This equipment will deliver up to One Gigabit per second and is not hampered by rain, hills, or trees. This future-proof fiber technology can deliver 10 Gigabits when needed by simply adding additional electronics. High-speed fiber broadband is on its way to unserved areas of Halifax County.”

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative’s (MEC) fiber optic network that enables EMPOWER Broadband’s high-speed internet service is now expanding into Halifax County. In June of 2018, MEC began the initial construction and deployment of its 135-mile fiber backbone to connect its substations and three district offices; ultimately, this backbone will serve six Southside Virginia counties. To take full advantage of this groundbreaking technology and infrastructure, MEC sought and was awarded a $2.62 million matching grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission for its EMPOWER Broadband subsidiary to deploy Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) service delivering ultra-high-speed broadband internet. Once the necessary backbone connections are complete, the next phase of the project will offer high-speed internet service to MEC’s residential, commercial, and industrial members within 1,000 feet of the backbone through its EMPOWER Broadband subsidiary.

Nearly six miles of fiber have already been deployed along Clays Mill Road toward MEC’s Crystal Hill substation located on Route 610 (Crystal Hill Road). From there, fiber will be deployed along L.P. Bailey Highway and onward to MEC’s Hickory Grove substation on Route 667 (Pumping Hill Road). This segment of the project will pass 479 homes in Halifax County bringing those residents a service desperately needed by Southside Virginia’s families, students, and businesses. This Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) deployment offers a base speed of 50 Megabits per second and up to One Gigabit per second. EMPOWER’s service does not utilize data caps nor does it slow down service as the month progresses.

Ed Owens, a Halifax County representative on the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, states, “It is gratifying to see Tobacco Commission funds being put to work here in Halifax County to deliver this much-needed educational and economic development resource. The deployment of high-speed internet is certainly a high priority for the Commission, and over the last decade, we have made a considerable investment in middle-mile fiber deployment through Mid-Atlantic Broadband. To deploy this long-awaited last mile segment of fiber to the doorstep of our students and businesses is a considerable and costly challenge…but Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative has stepped up to take it on and make a difference in our county’s quality of life.”

To continue their efforts to bring fiber to county residents, MEC/EMPOWER has partnered with Halifax County to submit five project areas for consideration in the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) last mile grant program. These areas include North West Halifax, Lower Liberty, Meadville to Hwy. 57, Omega to Virgilina, and Crystal Hill North and would create access for an additional 2,215 citizens. Award selection is anticipated by late December.

John C. Lee, Jr., president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and EMPOWER Broadband, indicates, “Expanding broadband service into Halifax County is a high priority for EMPOWER. Delivering access to Gig speed fiber is a game changer for education and commerce in our area…it’s a valuable offering for our businesses and for our families. We have chosen to move forward because it is future-proof technology, and it is time our region stopped settling for less. Just recently, in fact, improvements in electronics allow “off-the-shelf” equipment to deliver 10 Gigabit per second speeds over this same fiber. We’ve answered the call of our members to deliver high-speed broadband when no one else would, and once again, demonstrated MEC’s commitment to its mission…To Provide Services and Create Opportunities To Enhance the Quality of Life.”

Lee continues, “Members of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative can be assured that MEC and EMPOWER Broadband will continue to aggressively seek out additional grants and low-interest loans to facilitate the offering of reliable, high-quality internet access for those we serve and improve the overall quality of life for people in our communities. Those whose homes and offices are within the 1,000-foot route and, are eligible for fiber service in this first wave, will be notified in the coming weeks as deployment progresses and broadband becomes available.”