Five Va., Md.-based electric coops form broadband association
Goal is to bring internet service to underserved rural areas
With internet connectivity issues growing in importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, five electric cooperatives in Virginia and Maryland have formed a broadband cooperative association aimed at encouraging the expansion of high-speed internet service in underserved rural areas.
The new Maryland and Delaware Association of Broadband Cooperatives (VMDABC) includes Millboro-based BARC Electric Cooperative and its BARC Connects subsidiary; Arrington-based Central Virginia Electric Cooperative and its Firefly Fiber Broadband subsidiary; Waverly-based Prince George Electric Cooperative and its Ruralband subsidiary; as well as Chase City-based Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and its Empower Broadband subsidiary and Denton, Maryland-based Choptank Electric Cooperative and its Choptank Fiber LLC subsidiary.
“This association is the first of its kind in the nation,” said the group’s new board chairman, Prince George Electric Cooperative CEO Casey Logan in a statement. “Much like the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives was created 76 years ago during the formative years of rural electrification, today’s formal organization of a broadband association will improve the quality of life for our members.”
Southwest Virginia has long been affected by the digital divide. Only 49% of households in Virginia making less than $20,000 per year have a broadband subscription, and in some areas of Southern Virginia, Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, as many as 60% of households do not have internet service, according to 2019 data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
“Broadband access is something our members desperately need, as many rural areas are once again being left behind,” Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative CEO John C. Lee Jr. said in a statement. “Generations of future Virginians and Marylanders will have opportunities to learn, to work, to communicate and to enjoy benefits long available to those in cities and suburbs, thanks to the efforts of our group of broadband cooperatives.”
Choptank Electric Cooperative CEO Mike Malandro will serve as the first vice chairman of the new association, while Central Virginia Electric Cooperative Director Brian Bates will serve as its inaugural secretary-treasurer.
“We are hoping and intending for this broadband association to help bring unserved areas in our three states into the digital age, much as our electric cooperative members brought their communities into the electric age in the 1930s and ’40s,” VMDAEC President and CEO Richard G. Johnstone Jr. said in a statement.