Governor celebrates broadband expansion

By Heather Michon, correspondent

The sun came out just long enough on Thursday afternoon (July 11) to greet Gov. Ralph Northam, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) President Gary Wood, and county officials as they celebrated the next step in Fluvanna’s technological evolution through CVEC’s new subsidiary, Firefly Fiber Broadband.

About 60 people gathered under the pavilion at Lyles Baptist Church.

Board of Supervisors Chair Mike Sheridan noted that the 245-year old church didn’t have electricity until 1939. Today, they’re waiting for reliable wifi.

They aren’t alone. A 2017 survey conducted by the county found 15 percent of residents didn’t have an internet connection at home, and 22 percent rely on inadequate or expensive services. Fork Union, Columbia and Cunningham Districts, in particular, lack service.

The survey also found that 19 percent of K-12 students don’t have internet in the home.

Sheridan, a long-time educator, said increased internet service would help students excel. “With this, these students will be able to come home, do the work, and take care of getting that education…so that hopefully, one day, they can take care of me,” he joked.

“It’s not uncommon to drive by our library in the evenings and see families and kids sitting in the parking lot using the free wifi we have there,” said County Administrator Eric Dahl.

Northam has made rural broadband expansion a priority of his administration. In March, he announced $4.9 million in grants for almost a dozen projects statewide. CVEC received $641,967 for Fluvanna County, some of which will be used to extend service from its Columbia substation to 450 homes in Fluvanna and Cumberland counties.

In his remarks on Thursday, Northam said that increasing broadband would keep state and local economies thriving. “If you’re going to have a business come to you in Virginia, invest in rural Virginia, and if you’re going to help a business grow, there is no way you’re going to do it without access to the internet,” he said. “Businesses are not going to come to parts of this country where they don’t have access, in 2019, to broadband. It’s just that simple.”

Wood thanked Northam for the grant, which is a part of the company’s $110 million investment in fiber lines that will connect all 37,000 customers across 14 counties over the next five years.

“Rural people are very patient,” he said. “They’ve been waiting here to stream sermons and events for a long time.”

Wood praised the county for its support of the project’s development over the past two years. When CVEC approached the county early on, Wood said, the county “stepped up and said, ‘We’ll help.’”

When the project is complete, Wood said Fluvanna County won’t just have internet, but rather internet “as good you’ll find anywhere in the world, right here in these woods.”

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