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Surry internet moves forward

Surry County residents are one step closer to better high speed internet access.

Dominion Energy filed Oct. 1 for approval with the State Corporation Commission for three pilot projects introduced as part of the Grid Transformation & Security Act of 2018.

In Surry, Dominion plans to install 43 miles of middle mile fiber infrastructure in partnership with Ruralband, a Prince George Electric Cooperative subsidiary, that will provide high speed internet to residents in the county.

The other two pilot projects would enhance internet in the Northern Neck and Botetourt County. The Surry portion of the project would cost about $3.6 million, according to a Dominion spokeswoman. The projects also align with Gov. Ralph Northam’s $85 million proposal to expand access to broadband for unserved communities.

Overall, an anticipated $29 million will be spent to build 300 miles of fiber infrastructure.

“Access to high-speed broadband provides opportunities for our community to attract new businesses, create jobs and increase the number of citizens with work-from-home capabilities,” Melissa Rollins, Surry’s county administrator, said in an Oct. 9 statement issued by Dominion. “This initiative is critical to setting up future generations for success.”

As the middle mile provider, Dominion will not directly connect customers to the internet. Ruralband, as the internet service provider, would be responsible for that aspect and would lease Dominion’s infrastructure to provide broadband to Surry-based businesses and homes.

The reason for this approach is that in rural areas, it’s usually too expensive for internet service providers to build the infrastructure on their own that’s needed to reach people in less-populated communities. But as Dominion installs new infrastructure to update its energy grid, an opportunity exists to benefit residents and businesses through a business partnership.

More than 500,000 Virginians don’t have easy access to high-speed internet, and a recent State Council for Higher Education in Virginia report showed nearly 20% of rural students lack broadband at home, versus less than 10% of students in urban areas, according to Dominion.

In the Northern Neck, Dominion proposes installing approximately 217 miles of middle-mile fiber infrastructure. All Points Broadband, Dominion, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative and the counties of King George, Northumberland, Richmond and Westmoreland have entered a memorandum of understanding to advance the project. In Botetourt, 34 middle miles of fiber will be installed in partnership with BARC Electric Cooperative to create internet access in unserved areas of the county.

“With so many Virginians working and learning from home due to COVID-19, access to reliable internet is an absolute necessity,” said Ed Baine, president of Dominion Energy Virginia. “We hope these partnerships are the first of many, and we’re optimistic about how much these efforts could help communities here in our home state.”