Officials anticipate beginning work on coveted fiber broadband installation projects in Arrington, Schuyler and Shipman in the coming months with the intent of having the backbone finished in those areas by the end of this year.
These areas, as well as several others, are part of $1.25 million project approved in December and overseen by Firefly Fiber Broadband, a wholly owned subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, bringing wall-to-wall gigabit speed internet to Nelson County and connecting hundreds of homes and businesses off the CVEC system.
According to Gary Wood, CEO of Firefly and CVEC, the work so far in the areas of Arrington southeast of the railroad tracks, Schuyler along Rockfish Road, and Shipman following a portion of Virginia 56 has not progressed past the make-ready engineering, which is handled by Appalachian Power Company.
Firefly is performing the work in cooperation with APCo and Dominion. Wood said the Nelson County-based electric cooperative still is on pace to achieve universal broadband coverage in the county by the end of 2024 if not sooner.
Wood said he appreciated residents’ patience as the coop juggles both on- and off-system builds.
“We are working as quickly as we can. We are building a really solid network that will last a long time and we’re going to get to folks as quickly as possible,” Wood said.
Once make-ready work is complete, Firefly will take over the fiber construction, Wood said.
In deciding which three areas to prioritize for off the CVEC system, Wood said density and possible connections in the midst of a pandemic played a key role.
“Everywhere is equally deserving. If we could do it all at once we would do it. What we looked at were the areas — because we were still in a COVID period — we wanted to get by as many homes as possible particularly with the potential of school children needing access or people working from home so they could support their children,” Wood said.
Jesse Rutherford, chair of the Nelson County Broadband Authority, said broadband internet coming to Schuyler will be a “huge game changer,” adding he is “nothing but excited” for what internet will do for the three areas.
“This is just a continuation of our efforts and making sure we’re trying to expedite wherever we can,” Rutherford said. “Its extremely exciting to hear about these three areas which are low in income to have equal access to high speed internet just like our more urban counterparts.”
Firefly has outlined other APCo and Dominion customers who will receive service through 2024 through a total of more than a dozen projects.
These projects come on top of several other projects Firefly is juggling in both Nelson County for CVEC customers and across the cooperative’s 14-county footprint.
“This is an incredible logistics challenge on a daily basis,” Wood said of the various projects. “From materials to permits to marking ground, it’s a massive undertaking and we’re still on track.”
Wood said Firefly has completed several Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funded projects, including the west side of the tracks in Arrington, Schuyler and a number of small projects in Piney River and Colleen and buildouts on the CVEC system.
The CARES Act projects consisted of primarily underground work, but contractors encountered rock on the west side of the tracks in Shipman which has delayed the project as officials pivot to overhead work. It will likely be several months, however, before Firefly can begin taking connections, Wood said.
CARES Act-funded projects gave CVEC “an opportunity to do a number of good things” without slowing down the on-system construction, Wood said, adding the whole county will benefit from universal broadband.
“It didn’t make any sense to us when we looked at it from a management standpoint to put off an excellent opportunity to expand and not impact CVEC members,” Wood said. “I understand how frustrating it can be, though, when you’re waiting for service and you feel like other people are coming before you.”