By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: July 24, 2019 | 3:15 p.m.
SUSSEX – With the snip of a ribbon, it became official. After more than ten years of county leaders working to make it happen, on July 16, the first home in Sussex County was connected to high-speed internet out near Disputanta, through Prince George Electric Cooperative’s Ruralband.
“I’m excited!” exclaimed Roy Townsend, the proud owner of the home where he and his wife Janeen just had the first connection installed. “This is the real deal! It’s going to save us a lot of money, and this thing is fast.”
“This is a really great day for Sussex County,” declared Sussex Board of Supervisors Chairman Susan Seward, who, along with other board members, was on hand for the event. “This is going to enable our folks that live out in the country to have the same high-speed internet that folks in the suburbs and the cities have. It’s really going to allow our county to grow. I think it will improve the real estate value because folks don’t want to live where they don’t have internet, and now this is something hopefully we will soon across the county and it’s going to be a big step in taking Sussex county to the next level.”
Prince George Electric Cooperative’s pilot project in 2016 has been edging ever closer to serving the Sussex and Surry areas, and now their fiber-to-the-home high-speed internet project has, through its Ruralband subsidiary, begun its march across the area, according to their President and CEO Casey Logan. The cooperative received over a million dollars in funding from the Virginia Tobacco Commission in 2018 to help in expanding internet service to residents in Sussex County, and now, in partnership with Sussex County government, that expansion is coming to fruition.
“We’re really glad to be working with Sussex County,” Logan said. “If our local governments had not stepped in to help us with these projects it would not be possible. We’re working with Sussex County in a public-private partnership with the Tobacco Commission on a $1.25 million grant that has helped us to be able to bring this here today to this home. And all our local governments – Sussex, Surry, and Prince George Counties, have stepped forward and offered us avenues to move forward within those counties. Without them, this wouldn’t be possible.”
“Larger, investor-owned electric companies – just like back in the 30s and 40s with electricity – do not want to invest the kind of time or money to bring this service to rural areas, because the payback isn’t that great,” Logan added. “So in the electric cooperative, it fits right into our model. We’re used to the longer payback for our investments and it fits in with our projects. So with Counties like Sussex County helping with our upfront construction costs, that makes it more available for our members.”
“With speeds of one gigabit per second up and down,” he continued, “Fiber-to-the-home is the fastest and best medium for bringing broadband to a home or business and it is future-proof. As technology changes it can grow with it. It’s really the best thing out there right now as far as getting internet service to anyone, not only in Rural America but anywhere in America. All the equipment is top of the line. You can connect a lot of devices to it. We’re just happy that we get to go out to rural communities and help local homeowners and residents all over Sussex County enjoy a technology that’s usually reserved for people that live in the Richmond and these larger areas. It really means a lot to us and it means a lot for our communities and for education and for economic development.”
“I’ve spent my entire life helping to promote economic development and bringing companies here in Virginia,” said Renee Chapline, Vice President of Communications and Government Affairs of PGEC.
Having served previously as executive director of Virginia’s Gateway Region, the region’s economic development partner, Chapline remarked, “The biggest barriers to bringing jobs to folks here has been the lack of broadband access. When I see these homeowners smile and just being so happy with this new service, it just warms my heart. It’s a game changer. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
“We’re working right now to continue to build out our system,” Logan said as he stood and waited for the ribbon-cutting marking that first step into Sussex County. “Within the next 4 to 5 years we’re looking to serve all of our Prince George electric Cooperative Electric Members or give them the option to have internet service through our subsidiary Ruralband. In Sussex County, we have approximately 2,000 members, and in Surry county, we have approximately 2,000 plus members, so we’re working to serve all those members. Now they won’t all be done in 2019, but we’re working to get there and we’re hoping to be able to give all of our residents the option to be connected within the next four to five years.”