Meeting the need of rural America

Congressman Denver Riggleman, left, looks on as Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development DJ LaVoy announces USDA’s investment of nearly $3.8 million toward high-speed broadband infrastructure to be deployed by Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative.

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative is intent on addressing the digital divide in Southside Virginia, and its effort to do so received a boost from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently. The cooperative is the recipient of a nearly $3.8 million investment from the USDA for its fiber-to-the-home project. This funding will help to bring high-speed internet access to more than 1,250 households in Brunswick County through MEC’s wholly owned subsidiary, EMPOWER Broadband. The loan comes from the USDA ReConnect program, which provides support to expand access to broadband in partnership with co-ops, the private sector and rural communities.

Donald “DJ” LaVoy, deputy under secretary of rural development, made the award announcement at a Nov. 4 ceremony at the Triplet Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) near Lawrenceville, part of Mecklenburg Electric’s service territory. “Our core mission at USDA is to increase rural prosperity, and this mission cannot be achieved without addressing the digital divide our rural communities face due to a lack of high-speed broadband internet connection,” LaVoy told a group of federal, state and local dignitaries and community leaders.

“Our cooperative is very proud of the significant role we have played in improving the quality of life for those living here by providing the valuable service of electricity; and in 2019, we continue to build upon that legacy by forming EMPOWER Broadband to bring resilient, best-in-technology internet service to the citizens of Southside Virginia,” says John C. Lee, Jr., president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and EMPOWER Broadband. “This funding is a substantial breakthrough for our efforts in deploying fiber to Brunswick County residents, and I want to say how grateful we are for USDA’s assistance. Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative will use this ReConnect program funding to deploy a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband network capable of simultaneous transmission rates of one Gigabit per second and greater.”