PGEC is one of two state utility groups to win a total $47.5M to grow rural high-speed access

PRINCE GEORGE — The Prince George Electric Cooperative is one of two utility groups in Virginia to receive funds from the Federal Communications Commission to bring broadband Internet service to customers in the most rural parts of its service area over the next decade.

Last week, the FCC announced that it has authorized approximately $15.4 million for PGEC to expand high-speed fiber service to more than 5,200 locations in the counties of Prince George, Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Dinwiddie.

PGEC and River Street Communications of Virginia, which will receive $32.1 million from the FCC for its southern Virginia coverage area, are the latest of two waves of funding set up by the FCC as part of its nationwide Connect America Fund auction. In the first wave over May and June, the FCC earmarked $36.9 million to expand broadband to rural customers.

The FCC said once that the expansion funded by the auction is complete, about 18,800 residential and business customers across largely rural southern Virginia will have high-speed access.

Each of the expansions will include a minimum 1 gigabit of download speed, which is the highest available on broadband.

Casey Logan, PGEC’s president and CEO, called the FCC’s action “paramount” to bringing high-speed service to rural customers. Logan said the federal money complements the commitment the cooperative receives from its partner localities.

“Without the funding, it wouldn’t be possible to provide the service,” Logan said, adding that the counties served by PGEC “have worked from the get-go” on the broadband extension.

Within the first three years, PGEC will have to build out to a minimum 40% of its customer base. After that, the co-op is required to increase that coverage by at least 20% each year for three years until complete, which means that by 2025, every PGEC customer household should have broadband access.

Broken down by locality, Sussex County would have the most funding earmarked, almost $6.1 million, to bring broadband to 1,473 locations. Surry County has been designated to receive $5.13 million for 2,101 locations.

Funding for Prince George County would be $1.56 million for 783 locations, and Dinwiddie County would see $1.83 million for 663 locations. Because of their proximity to urban areas such as Petersburg, broadband access is more prevalent in Prince George and Dinwiddie than the other member counties.

Logan said PGEC’s goal is to have the broadband project completed within five years.

According to information provided by the FCC, the Connect America Fund Phase II auction is part of the agency’s broader effort to close the perceived “digital divide” between rural and urban America. In addition to the auction, FCC soon will launch a new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, to provide a minimum $20.4 billion over 10 years to expand broadband to even more rural areas.

By Bill Atkinson 
Assistant Editor
The Progress-Index

Bill Atkinson can be reached at 804-722-5167 or batkinson@progress-index.com. On Twitter: @BAtkinsonpi