The pandemic exposed the digital divide, especially for school students in rural Virginia, highlighting an equity problem, reported Energy News. Now, Virginia’s largest utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, are each developing pilot projects that will help rural residents obtain broadband.
The two utilities will defray grid communication system upgrade costs by partnering with local internet service providers (ISPs) who will share the use of the fiber cables. Appalachian Power’s project is already under construction in Grayson County. Dominion’s proposal for three pilot projects in Surry County, Botetourt County, and the Northern Neck region is currently with regulators and scheduled for a hearing on February 16.
“We are installing fiber in a number of rural areas as we move forward with efforts to transform Virginia’s energy grid,” said Augustus Johnson IV, Dominion’s director of electric distribution grid solutions. He added that the mainline fiber would “improve safety, security, and operations by connecting substations and other facilities.”
According to Energy News, Dominion’s proposal totals $29 million and includes a plan for ISPs to lease a portion of the 300-mile fiber cable. The leasing fees would offset the project’s cost to the utility’s investors and customers.
Dominion’s partners in the project, Prince George Electric Cooperative, BARC Electric Cooperative, and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, will be responsible for building the “last mile” of fiber to customers’ homes and businesses. Energy News reported that the Surry and Botetourt projects would take four to six months to build, while the Northern Neck project is estimated to take 12 to 18 months for construction.