By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 2, 2018 | 1:15 p.m.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that 380 Communications declined a purchase offer from Acelanet LLC, d/b/a SCS Broadband in late April, according to a statement from 380 Communications representatives.
PRINCE GEORGE – More people are being connected to the internet in Prince George County thanks to the unique broadband internet project being undertaken by Prince George Electric Cooperative and as that project continues to advance forward with a full head of steam and garnering the attention of other communities, the service provider is looking at opportunities beyond the county border.
Earlier this month, officials with Prince George Electric Cooperative visited Surry County and their board of supervisors to make a presentation on the subject of bringing broadband internet service into the county as part of their ongoing project in Prince George.
What started as a pilot program in 2016 has blossomed into a full-fledged internet service provider operation for Prince George Electric Cooperative’s subsidiary PGEC Enterprises. The fiber-to-the-home project is part of the cooperative’s efforts to create a “smart grid” that will link together their substations together using fiber optics to further streamline the electric cooperative’s operations. That fiber will serve as the backbone that will provide fiber optic cable to the homes of customers to give them access to high-speed internet that may otherwise not be offered in the area.
According to a map provided by Prince George County in 2017, the fiber backbone being installed by PGEC will move across a number of key routes in the county, including Route 10 through Burrowsville to the Surry County line.
In their presentation to Surry leaders, Casey Logan with Prince George Electric Cooperative made a similar pitch to supervisors in the county that was made to Prince George County officials in 2017, asking the county for a $1 million grant to “allow Surry County residents to receive broadband services” in the same timeline as Prince George and Surry County, adding, “Without the grant, PGEC Enterprises will not be able to offer broadband in Surry County at the same pace as the other counties.”
Nearly one year ago, Prince George County’s Industrial Development Board, the county, and PGEC Enterprises entered into a three-party deal where PGEC received the requested $1 million in funding from the county through the IDA and in turn, PGEC Enterprises was required to bring 500 new customers online by July 1, 2021. For Prince George County, leaders had already approved $1 million in funding for broadband expansion efforts as part of their spring borrowing in 2017 and those funds were turned over to the county’s IDA who granted them to PGEC Enterprises.
According to PGEC representative Renee Chapline, as the project approaches the one-year mark, PGEC Enterprises has brought over 125 new customers online and they have another 116 applications pending, adding they were “confident” they would finish the project well ahead of the July 1, 2021 deadline.
For Surry, internet service expansion has been a key topic for leaders in the county as they continue their efforts to bring more of the community online. After issues with internet service provider Buggs Island Telephone that saw them being asked to stop work on a broadband internet project in the county, Surry rebounded and eventually moved forward by selecting Arrington, Virginia-based SCS Broadband as the county’s internet service provider partner. When efforts to get a state grant to help pay for costs associated with the deployment of wireless internet service on a pair of towers in the county failed, the project was shifted to a one-tower model, using the county’s communication tower at the Surry West Business Park, which county officials said would not provide countywide internet coverage as was suggested in the failed grant application.
Last year, County Attorney William Hefty said, “A substantial part” of the county would be able to access the subscriber services when the service was supposed to go live in September of 2017.
That date came and went without internet services being made live leading up to a contract execution with SCS Broadband in November, where officials projected the launch of wireless internet services would occur by the end of 2017.
As of April, that service has yet to be active and, according to SCS Broadband’s website, the service provider is “actively deploying internet services from the first tower located in Surry West Business Park,” adding they have plans to “[expand] to a second tower during the first half of 2018 to add coverage area in Surry County” and they are “purchasing 380 Communications and will be converting all of its customers over to SCS Broadband’s improved speeds using [their] LTE system,” with a local office being planned for Surry to deal with servicing and support needs.
In a later statement, representatives from 380 Communications, LLC said they “declined the purchase offer from Acelanet LLC d/b/a SCS Broadband” and that Patrick MacIntosh, owner of 380 Communications, “resigned as the SCS East Regional Operations Manager.”
“380 Communications created the first wireless internet service in Surry County dating back 13 years,” the company said in a statement to The Prince George Journal. “380 Communications will continue to provide internet service, local customer service and expand in locations which they can reach within their network.”
According to Surry County Administrator Tyrone Franklin’s preliminary recommended budget presentation for FY2019, also delivered the same night PGEC presented to the Surry Board of Supervisors, no mention of funding for additional broadband projects were included for the upcoming fiscal year.
PGEC Enterprises has also received a $1.25 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, known as The Tobacco Commission for short, to help in PGEC Enterprises’ efforts to expand broadband internet service into Sussex.