On Monday, Governor Ralph Northam announced the Southside Planning District Commission and EMPOWER Broadband would be awarded a $69,431,635 grant for broadband coverage.

The project will build fiber broadband to 11,527 unserved locations and achieve universal coverage in Brunswick, Charlotte, Halifax and Mecklenburg counties when combined with other projects. 

The grant award will be leveraged with $84,677,555 from project partners EMPOWER Broadband and the counties of Brunswick, Charlotte, Halifax and Mecklenburg.

Attempts to reach county administrator Scott Simpson and chair of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors’ broadband committee Stanley Brandon were unsuccessful as of press time Thursday.

When applying for the grant, Simpson said, “EMPOWER Broadband has been actively deploying fiber-to-the-premises to our county and across the area with increasing intensity. They are delivering on their grant commitments and more of our citizens are receiving their robust broadband service on a weekly basis. If successful, this grant would be a significant development that would allow EMPOWER to extend its proven service even further into our county and region.”

Monday’s announcement comes as Virginia allocates more than $722 million to provide universal broadband infrastructure in 70 localities, which will close 90% of Virginia’s digital divide.

The funding—from the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) and the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—will support 35 projects, connecting more than 278,000 households, businesses and community anchor institutions to high-speed internet, and leverages more than $1 billion in private and local investments, pushing the total broadband investment in Virginia above $2 billion over the past four years.

In Halifax County, they plan to deploy 810 miles of fiber passing 4,007 locations.

EMPOWER has completed the initial 135-mile fiber backbone supported by Mecklenburg County in a 2018 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission. That backbone has served as the foundation for the further expansion of the highspeed network across the region. In Mecklenburg County, they plan to deploy 785 miles of fiber passing 9,085 locations in Mecklenburg County.

In Brunswick County, they plan to deploy 405 miles of fiber passing 3,445 locations.

Additionally, in southern Charlotte County they plan to deploy 88 miles of fiber passing 434 locations.

Dominion Energy and EMPOWER have executed an agreement for Dominion to deploy middle-mile service to facilitate EMPOWER extending last-mile service to previously unserved and underserved populations in Dominion’s service territory.

In addition to Dominion, EMPOWER also has an agreement with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) to utilize their middle-mile fiber facilities when and where needed. The two entities also have a fiber sharing/trading agreement.

MBC and EMPOWER have worked in coordination over the last few years to leverage the middle-mile fiber network made possible by investments from the Commonwealth of Virginia. For this grant application, MBC proposed to provide 22 miles of fiber to EMPOWER to assist with the expansion of middle-mile services in Mecklenburg County.

Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) will be partners with EMPOWER in the project as well. Needed in order to provide universal coverage, SEC will support the effort by providing valuable access to their facilities allowing EMPOWER to cross all electric utility boundaries and provide service to all.