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Firefly CEO updates supervisors on broadband expansion

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Gary Wood

Gary Wood, CEO of Firefly Fiber Broadband, speaks at an Oct. 21, 2021 ceremony celebrating the company reaching a milestone of 10,000 accounts in 33 months.

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative estimates more than 90% of Nelson County residents will have access to gigabit-speed internet by Jan 1, 2023.

However, CVEC and Firefly Fiber Broadband CEO Gary Wood said complications with railroad crossings and Regional Internet Service Expansion (RISE) partner Appalachian Power Company are holding up connections in the Shipman, Arrington and Schuyler areas

Wood presented a map of the county to the Nelson County Broadband Authority and the board of supervisors on July 12 that indicated nearly the entire county will be connected to broadband by 2023.

The only areas not highlighted on the map, and not included in the year end internet estimate, are the northernmost tip of the county, around U.S. 250 in Afton, and the northwesternmost tip of the county near Love. Wood estimated these two areas, which include about 175 homes, will be connected by late 2023.

“Our intent is to get as many people connected as possible. We may still be connecting people into early next year in parts of the county, but the fiber will be up,” Wood told the Broadband Authority.

Wood also presented a map of Firefly’s current footprint in the county — with gaps in Arrington, Schuyler and Shipman and around Lovingston, Tyro, Piney River and Roseland, which he went on to address.

He told the broadband authority fiber construction and splicing is complete in the Arrington area southeast of the railroad tracks and around Variety Mills Road, but Firefly is waiting for Norfolk Southern Railway to schedule a crossing for his teams to make final connections. Wood said fiber construction and 75% of splicing is complete in the Shipman area along Virginia 56 and around Deer Run Lane, but Firefly teams are waiting on a railroad crossing permit to finish.

According to Wood’s presentation, Appalachian Power Company completed its preliminary work in a Schuyler area around Rockfish River Road and Schuyler Road, and fiber construction will begin once CVEC finishes work on the Schuyler substation by the end of July.

Wood said about 400 people have signed up for service out of about 630 homes and businesses in these three areas: “so there’s a significant need and we need to get those railroad crossings and get AEP moving.” APCo is a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP).

He identified several areas AEP is currently working on: along James River Road and Front Street in Lovingston; along Variety Mills Road near Norwood; and along Virginia 151 around Clay Pool Road and Cow Hollow Road.

AEP hasn’t started its make-ready work in other pockets: along Roseland Road, Dark Hollow Road and Horseshoe Road; from Massies Mill to Pharsalia and along Pharsalia Road and Browns Hollow Lane; from Salem Road along Glade Road to Piney Mountain Place; along Glade Road and Hunting Lodge Road; along Taylor Creek Road; and from Salem Road to Rockfish Crossing.

Wood said the holdup isn’t an engineering or money problem: “It’s just getting crews out to get the work done. So we’re encouraging them daily and weekly, calling everyone we can at AEP to send us some help because as soon as they get their work done we can get our work done. We asked them last year to finish this work in August. It’s the second week of July.”

He said AEP currently has three crews working in the county, but he thinks they need eight to meet the year end goal.

Jesse Rutherford, who sits on both the board of supervisors and broadband authority, said both bodies would be sending letters to APCo, Norfolk Southern and any regulators holding up the process.

“This impedes the health and wellness of our community,” Rutherford said.

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