Last week, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) gave Halifax County projects the green light for EMPOWER broadband to proceed with field engineering and permitting in its attempts to provide ultra-high-speed internet service to rural citizens in unserved and underserved areas of Southside Virginia.

In January, EMPOWER Broadband, in conjunction with Halifax County, was awarded a $710,514 grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI). The grant will aid in building 37 miles of fiber optic cable including the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) serving 634 homes and businesses in Halifax County. EMPOWER Broadband is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC).

The objective of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) VATI program is to extend broadband to rural areas that do not have access to Internet speeds of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Megabits per second upload.

The grant will fund four projects: Omega to Aarons Creek, Lower Liberty Road, Cody to Bull Creek and Liberty to Highway 57.

These areas encompass parts of Bill Tuck Highway, Lower Liberty, Aaron’s Creek, Hitesburg Church, Stage Coach, Bull Creek, Meadville, Leda, Chatham and Asbury Church.

Homes and businesses located within these areas will soon be eligible for broadband service. Several package options will be available offering unprecedented speeds from 50 Megabits per second up to 1 GIG.

EMPOWER also offers digital quality Voice over IP telephone service that includes features like call waiting, caller ID, 3-way calling, voicemail and much more.

In the coming weeks, eligible residents will be sent letters with complete details including an application for service and in-home installation. Residents are encouraged to check EMPOWER’s service map at empowermec.net. The EMPOWER team is gathering applications in advance of construction to allow crews to build main fiber lines, main line extensions, and drops to individual premises and buildings to minimize any duplication of work.

John C. Lee, Jr., president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and EMPOWER Broadband, said, “The VATI grant program requires a comprehensive project submittal accompanied by a thorough scoring process. The grant award for Halifax County is a testament to the hard work of our teams in expressing the need of our citizens and their communities. With each day, the difficulties we experience because of the tremendous digital divide highlight the hindrances forced upon our students and businesses. It’s our mission and part of our DNA to meet this community need.”

The next steps include finalizing the grant agreement between EMPOWER, Halifax County and DHCD. The entire VATI project is slated for completion over the next 18 months.

Scott Simpson, Halifax County administrator, said, “A key objective for Halifax County is to ensure that reliable high-speed Internet service is made available to as many county residents as possible. These projects with Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and EMPOWER Broadband are a big step in making that happen.”

Most notably, this grant takes advantage of the company’s existing fiber backbone. Prior to commencement of VATI-funded construction, EMPOWER is utilizing its existing and ongoing fiber deployment in Halifax County to deliver high-speed service to residences to test the newly built facilities. Mailers have been sent to those residing within 1,000 feet of the backbone route that runs from the Clays Mill area through Crystal Hill, along L.P. Bailey Memorial Highway, Bradley Creek to Pumping Hill and onward to Highway 40.

Stanley Brandon, Halifax County district six supervisor and chair of the county’s broadband committee, said, “We are very proud of the significant role EMPOWER Broadband and Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative are playing in improving the quality of life for those living here; and we know they will continue to build upon their legacy to bring the most resilient, best-in-technology internet service to the citizens of Halifax County.”

EMPOWER’s Lee added, “Most often, the question we hear is, ‘When will I receive this new high-speed service?’ The short answer is…We’re aggressively building and we’re building toward you, but we ask for your patience. We must remember we cannot fix overnight the years Southside Virginia has been overlooked by high-speed Internet providers. But today that time is over… we are diligently working on new expansion projects and seek funding opportunities from every possible source.”