-

John Lee

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) and its subsidiary, EMPOWER Broadband, along with four other electric cooperatives in Virginia and Maryland, are excited to announce the creation of an innovative association of broadband cooperatives to help bring world-class internet service to underserved rural areas.

The new Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Broadband Cooperatives (VMDABC) recognizes the benefits of collaboration, as well as the growing workload required to support a common agenda.

John Lee, President and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, EMPOWER Broadband, and a founding member of the VMDABC states, “The Electric Cooperatives represented by the Virginia Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives share both the common mission of providing our members with reliable and affordable electric service, and the need for strong and consistent advocacy on the state and federal levels. Motivated by the sound commitment to those we serve, these cooperatives form a close-knit group that recognizes that they are a far more powerful voice speaking collectively as one through our trade association. Additionally, over the past few years, that commitment to serve has spurred several of these cooperatives to answer the call to bring high-speed internet service to our unserved rural areas, and they are doing so with resounding success.”

Lee continued, “As EMPOWER Broadband has grown, along with the internet affiliates of our sister cooperatives, we have worked together with local, state, and federal government to begin addressing the impact of the digital divide between rural and more urban areas and the consequences that result from that disparity. Formally establishing the VMDABC is a natural progression in protecting and enhancing our broadband efforts in these rural areas and to assist in providing educational and economic opportunities through high quality internet access to homes and businesses across the rural Virginia countryside.”

Newly elected VMDABC Board Chairman Casey Logan, CEO of Prince George Electric Cooperative in Waverly, Va., and its broadband subsidiary, RURALBAND states “This association is the first of its kind in the nation, and this is truly a historic day. Much like the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) was created 76 years ago during the formative years of rural electrification, today’s formal organization of a broadband association will undoubtedly improve the quality of life for our members.”

The association consists of five founding Class A members that are in various stages of developing comprehensive fiber-to-the-home networks, and also will benefit the cooperatives’ communications systems.

In addition to MEC, and its subsidiary, EMPOWER Broadband, they are: BARC Electric Cooperative, Millboro, and its subsidiary, BARC Connects; Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Arrington, and its subsidiary, Firefly Fiber Broadband;

Choptank Electric Cooperative, Denton, MD, and its subsidiary, Choptank Fiber LLC; and Prince George Electric Cooperative, Waverly, and its subsidiary, RURALBAND. Mike Malandro, CEO of Choptank Electric Cooperative, will serve as the trade association’s vice chairman, while Brian Bates, a director at Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, will serve as secretary-treasurer. Modeled after the structure of the electric cooperative association, VMDABC will offer multiple classes of membership, including co-op affiliates offering retail fiber, co-ops pursuing middle mile or “backbone” fiber, other broadband entities and vendors.

“We hope all cooperatives with any level of interest in broadband will join this association, and work with us as we, once again, strive to bring a much-needed service to our rural service areas,” Logan said.

Currently, more than 20 million Americans do not have broadband in their homes or businesses, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and most of them live in rural areas.

“This is a great opportunity at a great time, to address the growing need for a singular, unifying voice to speak for cooperative broadband interests,” said VMDAEC COO Brian Mosier. “We look forward to assisting these broadband cooperatives in areas including legislative advocacy, communications, and marketing.”

VMDAEC will provide management and technical support to VMDABC through a management services agreement, and VMDABC will have separate legislative representation in the Maryland and Virginia legislatures.

— Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) proudly powers over 31,000 homes, farms and businesses in the counties of Brunswick, Charlotte, Greensville, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Pittsylvania, Southampton, and Sussex in Virginia and portions of Granville, Northampton, Person, Vance, and Warren counties in North Carolina. It is headquartered in Chase City and has district offices in Chase City, Va.; Emporia, Va.; Gretna, Va.; and Bracey, Va. For more information, please visit www.meckelec.org.