Stakeholders including Dominion Energy Virginia; Firefly Fiber Broadband, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative; Rappahannock Electric Cooperative; and the Counties of Albemarle, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Greene, Louisa, and Powhatan, Virginia announced on June 24 that they have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to advance a regional broadband partnership that aims to deliver fiber-optic broadband service to unserved and underserved households and businesses in areas of Central Virginia, subject to regulatory approvals.
The partnership is enabled by bi-partisan legislation adopted during the state's 2021 General Assembly Session. The agreement could extend access to more than 25,000 Virginians who currently lack access to reliable broadband services.
"This partnership marks a major step forward in ensuring that the communities we serve have access to quality, high speed internet that is critical to allowing homes, businesses and educational institutions to function in today's digital world," said Ed Baine, president of Dominion Energy Virginia. "We are excited to work with Firefly Fiber Broadband, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and each participating county to help support the expansion of this critical service."
Gary Wood, president and CEO of Firefly states that Firefly is pleased to expand its footprint in Central Virginia and to partner with Dominion Energy Virginia and Rappahannock Electric to find solutions for the most underserved rural areas. Wood said, "The County Administrators and Board of Supervisors should be applauded for their efforts to secure reliable, high-speed internet to their entire counties. Firefly is eager to spread its wings and light up households and businesses with reliable and affordable fiber broadband through the Regional Internet Service Expansion (RISE) project."
"At Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, our goal is to be part of the solution to facilitate broadband to the households and businesses we serve," said John Hewa, president and CEO of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. "Being able to partner on this endeavor with several counties where we serve electric members – along with Firefly Broadband and Dominion Energy Virginia is a major advancement allowing each of us to seek to further the Commonwealth's goals of making broadband access available to everyone."
Under the partnership, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative will own a fiber network where it delivers electricity in the counties of Louisa, Albemarle, Goochland and Greene Counties where it delivers electricity. Firefly will serve as the internet service provider. This project will also improve reliability and resiliency while modernizing the grid to provide advanced energy solutions.
Dominion Energy is installing fiber in rural areas as it moves forward with efforts to transform Virginia's energy grid. This fiber capacity can be used for operational needs as well as broadband access, reducing broadband deployment costs for internet service providers. Under the agreement, Firefly will lease the "middle-mile" fiber installed by Dominion Energy in the company's electric service area in these nine counties.
Dominion Energy, Firefly Fiber Broadband, and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and each participating county say they will work toward a phased approach; for Dominion Energy Virginia that will include an application to the State Corporation Commission to seek regulatory approval in early 2022. The first phase will include engineering studies which will determine the most efficient deployment plan and funding requirements.
The project is intended to cover all possible locations in these nine counties that do not have access to broadband meeting the minimum qualifying service speeds that the Commonwealth of Virginia has established, which are 25 Mbps download and 3Mmbps upload from a fixed wireless or wired connection.