EMPOWER Broadband Moves Aggressively Forward

(CHASE CITY, Va.) EMPOWER Broadband has taken a giant leap toward fulfilling its promise to bring world-class internet access to Virginians in rural Southside communities. EMPOWER, with assistance from their Owner Engineer Magellan Broadband, has secured the services of National OnDemand, Inc. for the main line construction of its massive fiber optic buildout. National OnDemand, based in Burlington, N.C., delivers industry-leading expertise to the construction of both aerial and underground fiber plant, and has built a solid reputation for safely and successfully completing major fiber deployment projects. The two organizations, EMPOWER and National OnDemand, signed a contract for the three-year project on September 9 at Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative headquarters in Chase City, Va.

“EMPOWER was looking for a partner that could get the job done in a timely, efficient and professional manner,” said EMPOWER President and CEO John C. Lee, Jr., “but also one that shares our core values of safety, integrity, reliability, service, and a commitment to excellence. National OnDemand comes highly recommended, has a stellar reputation, and we are very pleased to partner with them and get this historical project underway.” With the procurement of this highly reputable construction firm, EMPOWER continues its aggressive yet efficient march toward fiber deployment across southern Virginia.

National OnDemand has deployed thousands of miles of fiber and connected tens of thousands of homes and businesses to high-speed internet across the country. National’s staff has a vast amount of experience with its foundation going back to 1988. Headquartered in Burlington, N.C., National’s more than 1,600 team members operate out of 60+ offices in 45 states with ongoing projects that include nearby Hampton Roads, Va. Company officials recognized the coming need for fiber construction and have intentionally increased its workforce to meet pending fiber demands across the country. National OnDemand has leased the old Sherwood Foods building on South Main Street in Chase City for their base of operations and the storage of material, vehicles, and equipment for the project.

National OnDemand’s CEO, Douglas Boteler, commented, “National OnDemand is proud to be a part of EMPOWER’s fiber buildout. We will immediately bring to bear our expertise and resources in providing fiber solutions, coupled with our experience in partnering with electric cooperatives, to deliver fiber to communities across Southside Virginia. National OnDemand has prepared for the rapid addition and expansion of broadband infrastructure across the country, and we are excited to be partnering with EMPOWER on this project. We at National OnDemand are uniquely suited to assist EMPOWER in meeting the growing needs of EMPOWER and its rural customers in a timely manner.”

Over the next three years, EMPOWER will continue fiber deployment and operate a 3,000-mile high-speed fiber network, passing 30,000 homes and businesses. The massive project is part of the $154 million combined grant and match funding awarded to EMPOWER and the Southside Planning District Commission to provide world class broadband to thousands in Brunswick, Charlotte, Halifax, and Mecklenburg Counties.  Once underway, area residents will have the opportunity to participate in the fiber construction project through potential employment with National OnDemand.  National provides training for aerial linemen, underground operators and fiber splicers, and will post available positions on their corporate website.

“Our plans include working in all four counties concurrently, beginning in areas adjacent to existing EMPOWER facilities with fiber that is already lit and operational, and expanding from there to serve additional homes and businesses.  Building an entire broadband network across this expansive rural area is a monumental undertaking,” Boteler continued, “but EMPOWER is staying ahead of the curve and is making tremendous strides in its pledge to provide world class broadband to thousands in rural Southside Virginia.”

In continuing fiber deployment utilizing existing facilities, Palmer Springs in Mecklenburg County, Meadville, Leda, and Rodden areas in northwestern Halifax County, and the southern tip of Charlotte County have been slated as the next areas of construction where work is expected to begin over the next several weeks.  In preparation of this expansion, Magellan has had experienced deployment specialists onsite completing field design in these areas for the past few weeks. Additionally, Magellan will assist EMPOWER in overseeing daily work including supervision of splicing, termination, and testing; inspection of backbone, distribution and drop construction; tracking field changes; and contracting close-out items for each work zone. Additional details on the construction schedule will be forthcoming as determined by EMPOWER, Magellan, and National OnDemand.

“We are already serving customers and finalizing construction in federally funded Connect America Fund areas of Brunswick County a full two years in advance of FCC requirements; we project mainline completion there in southern Brunswick by year end,” Lee said. “Our team has done an extraordinary job of moving this expansive project successfully forward with an urgency that matches the genuine need for broadband by the residents of Southside Virginia. It is very gratifying to be a part of this strong initiative and provide coverage to those across the region with little or no options for robust and reliable broadband service.”

EMPOWER and Magellan are currently developing a construction dashboard to provide regular updates on miles of fiber deployed, customers connected, and general information regarding project progress. That dashboard will be maintained and viewable to everyone on the EMPOWER website.

EMPOWER Broadband, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and its Member-Owners, began its fiber broadband program as a pilot in March of 2018. In April of 2021, EMPOWER officials announced the activation of its 1000th customer connected to the firm’s expanding fiber network.

At present, EMPOWER’s Board and staff are proud to announce that the growing internet service provider closed its August 2022 books with a total of 2,767 ultra-high-speed accounts. To date, EMPOWER has built and operates 722 miles of high-speed network crossing portions of eight localities including Brunswick, Charlotte, Greensville, Halifax, Mecklenburg, Pittsylvania, Warren, N.C. and the city of Emporia. This existing network passes within 500 feet of 10,269 premises and new customers are being connected to EMPOWER’s fiber network every day.

This project was funded/supported in collaboration with the Commonwealth of Virginia's Telecommunication Initiative that is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development.