Cooperatives work to join forces, bring fiber broadband to Southside

The boards of directors of Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative (BIT) and EMPOWER Broadband have signed an agreement that would allow EMPOWER Broadband to acquire BIT and merge their resources upon an affirmative vote by BIT’s membership. Once the agreement is approved by BIT members, the two organizations will provide high-speed fiber internet and upgraded telephone services to the BIT area and across Southside Virginia operating through EMPOWER. The two cooperatives share members, and both boards strongly recommend the approval of the acquisition. Both boards of directors and senior management staffs (pictured) gather at Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, EMPOWER’s parent company, to sign the agreement. Participating in the signing are (from left) EMPOWER’s officers including president and CEO John Lee Jr., vice chairman Frank Myers and chairman David Jones, and BIT’s officers including president Linsey Carroll, vice president Randolph Hite and general manager Michele Taylor.

Officials with Buggs Island Telephone Cooperative (BIT Communications) in Bracey and EMPOWER Broadband, Inc., a subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) in Chase City, announced the boards of directors of the two organizations have executed an agreement for EMPOWER to acquire BIT.

This merger of resources would advance the deployment of high-speed fiber broadband internet and telephone services to BIT’s service area and across Southside Virginia. Discussions have been ongoing since 2017 between the boards of directors of both entities and the senior management teams, while extensive due diligence, including legal, financial, telecommunications plant and staffing evaluations, has been conducted.

The agreement states EMPOWER Broadband would acquire BIT, and its resources would be combined with EMPOWER’s to accelerate efforts in deploying services. The actual merger is contingent on the approval of the BIT membership and determined by vote of the BIT members. The voting period will run from Oct. 7 to Nov. 13, and members can cast their votes electronically or by mail.

According to Michele Taylor, general manager of BIT, members of the 65-year-old cooperative have been contacted by letter and email, notifying them of the agreement and recommending their approval.

Taylor said, “The board of directors and management staff of BIT encourage members to vote “YES” to the proposal because this merger will be very beneficial to our members as deployment of long-awaited broadband internet service will gain momentum. The download/upload speeds that will be available in the basic package will be up to 50 Mbps. At these speeds, a 45-minute TV show can be downloaded in 30 seconds and a four-minute song can be downloaded in 6/10s of a second. This package supports the highest household demands.”

Taylor added, “If this venture is approved by a majority vote of our membership, in addition to the availability of ultra-high-speed internet service and upgraded phone service, BIT members also will receive a check in the mail representing a lump-sum settlement of their remaining capital credits.”

EMPOWER Broadband, Inc., was established as a subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) to provide retail broadband service across MEC’s service area and was incorporated in January of this year.

John C. Lee Jr., president and CEO of both MEC and EMPOWER, agrees the addition of BIT to EMPOWER will be of mutual benefit to the members of both organizations.

“Deploying fiber is costly, and rural Southside Virginia lacks the population density required to interest large investor-owned companies in meeting this need,” he said, adding, “BIT and MEC have worked alongside each other as sister cooperatives for decades to meet the electric and telephone service commitments made to our common memberships. We’ll continue to meet both those responsibilities and there is no doubt that joining forces puts us in a stronger position to deliver a third critical service to our members…world-class internet access.”

Lee continued, “Working together will maximize efficiencies, minimize any duplication of service, and combine the collective strengths of the two organizations to more aggressively deploy fiber and offer the most reliable and fastest internet service to our members. And doing so will make a difference in Southside Virginia’s quality of life and ability to compete. We are bringing our members fiber…the best of the best broadband technology…and it’s time we stopped settling for less.”