Video | CVEC Fiber: Community Advantages

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) is launching its own broadband fiber initiative after millions of dollars in incentives for high-speed internet access were left on the table.

What happened?

“We had nobody, no company or group of companies, that provided a fully responsive solution,” says Gary Wood, president and CEO of the co-op headquartered in Lovingston.

So, armed with a feasibility study and board approval, CVEC has begun a five-year, $100 million fiber build-out to serve its 36,000 members with gigabit-class broadband internet.

“What was driving this was our need for the electric service to have better communications from substations to downline equipment for reclosers,” Wood says.

In 2016, CVEC released a request for information for a partner to make broadband available to every member across its 14-county territory. As an incentive, the co-op offered to waive annual pole attachment fees of $1.2 million.

Nobody bit.

Now a co-op broadband subsidiary is in the works, and initial member connections are expected by year’s end.

“Since we were unsuccessful in finding a partner, we will put it in across the entire system to serve members as well,” Wood says.

CVEC will seek support from state and county economic development funds as well as federal programs such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service and the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect America Fund.

Video | CVEC Fiber: Families Served

A number of CVEC-served counties want broadband solutions to improve schools, home values, and tax bases, Wood says.

“We have had no load growth since 2009,” he says. “Part of that is the economy, but also it does not help when you don’t have the services in place for an area where people want to live. It’s about how to keep rural living as a viable choice for families. We know there are people today who turn down home purchases in our territory when there is not good broadband.”

Mid-career professionals in rural America want a chance to run a business or update their credentials online. Young people want the option to work anywhere.

Wood knows this firsthand. His daughter is in the art and technology fields. His son works in Shanghai, China. “He didn’t have to go that far, but his job depends on having good internet access,” Wood says. “That is the nature of where society is heading.”

In the end, co-ops are well-suited for the job, he notes. For-profit companies cannot wait years for a return on investment.

Co-ops, we’re going to be here. We’re used to putting in an investment over a long period without return. We understand what to do to drive costs down,” Wood says. “We’re a good fit for this.”

Back to the May 2018 cover story, ‘The Beauty of Fiber’