All Points Broadband and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission received a major grant through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative. Ralph Northam announced the funding in December 2021 and you can read the announcement here. In a partnership using SVEC’s fiber backbone, All Points will construct a fiber-to-the-home broadband network to bring internet access to about 40,000 unserved locations across an eight-county region. Interested customers can register their location to be included in the fiber network on All Points’ website here.
Broadband has been a major discussion topic for the SVEC board of directors. SVEC has completed two feasibility studies to better understand how broadband could be incorporated into our future plans for a fiber network that will connect all our substations and other infrastructure for electric use.
In August 2020, the board voted to explore opportunities in each locality that paired up with our fiber backbone and also served the internet needs in the area. The need for broadband varies greatly within the service territory and the board wanted to be purposeful in our approach. Staff has been in contact with localities regarding this plan and is currently identifying starting points across our service territory. Once initiated, the roll out will take several years to complete. While SVEC does not anticipate becoming an internet service provider, the board feels strongly about trying to find solutions by way of partnership to help with the rural broadband challenge.
Click here to listen to the updates on the fiber project given during our telephone town hall event on March 18, 2021.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between “fiber” and “broadband” in the context of the SVEC project?
Fiber is the fiberoptic cable backbone that will connect substations, communication sites, offices, and other SVEC facilities.
Broadband is “high speed” internet connection. Fiberoptic cable is one possible media type to deliver broadband service.
Is SVEC entering the broadband business?
The cooperative will act as a “middle mile provider” and does not intend on being an internet service provider (ISP). An ISP would lease fiber space from SVEC to run to a member’s home to provide broadband service.
What does “SVEC will lease fiber space out” mean?
The cable that we are installing consists of multiple fibers. SVEC will only need a portion of those fibers to serve our electric needs. The “extra” fibers can be leased to internet service providers (ISPs). ISPs would use these fibers to bring internet service to points along the cable in areas that are not served. From those points, the ISP could run fiber to the premises (FTTP) in order to provide broadband service.
Why is SVEC doing it this way?
- The fiber cable project was first approved by the cooperative’s Board of Directors to connect substations, communications towers and other facilities to offer a more reliable, long-term technology for the co-op and its members.
- The idea of leasing space to ISPs while installing fiber makes strategic and economic sense to meet the needs of members.
- Strategic: The co-op recognizes the need for broadband deployment in rural areas, and that providing the installation of fiber or “middle mile” service to further incentivizes ISPs to come to the Valley. This is an additional service to our members.
- Financial: The initial estimated cost to install the fiber network is $40 million while the cost to extend to homes would have started at $250 million.
- SVEC serves a large, diverse territory with a range of member needs as it pertains to better internet service.
- Available resources currently allow for the co-op to make the planned fiber investment, while maintaining our core service of safe, reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost.
What is the fiber project timeline and details?
- SVEC is working with contractors who will assist with the make-ready design for the fiber network, as well as obtain the necessary easements from the property owners along the routes. The two contractors selected are Timmons Group and Pike Engineering (Bowman Consulting Group is a subcontractor for Pike).
- Contractors can be identified by an “SVEC Contractor” magnet on their work vehicle as well as an SVEC badge.
- Roll out of this project will occur in segments over the next three to four years. Contractor field work will be in Page County and Augusta County beginning September 2021. Once those areas are complete, the contractors will move on to Rockingham, Frederick and Shenandoah Counties.
- Field work means contractors will be within SVEC’s right-of-way, as well as making door-to-door visits to obtain updated, signed easements from the landowners, where necessary.
- Phase 1 of the Page County segment will begin at the Shenandoah Substation off of Junior Ave in Shenandoah and follow the main power line to the North Shenandoah Substation, on Kite’s Corner Rd. Phase 1 of the Augusta County project will begin at the Cold Springs Substation near Greenville, head west through Middlebrook and then turn north to the Trimbles Mill Substation in Swoope.
- Specific route plans may change as the project progresses.
- Property owners along the routes will be contacted by mail as the project progresses.
- Impacted landowners will receive a post card in the mail from SVEC with additional information.
- The project timeline for each locality varies based on the amount of “make-ready” work necessary.
- Make-ready work includes SVEC’s engineers assessing the availability of poles for attachments. In many cases, there are non-electric cables and wires on co-op poles. Engineers must evaluate the structure of the poles to know whether additional attachments can be made without changes.
Why do you need an easement? What is an easement?
- As a public utility, SVEC is responsible for the safety and reliability of its electrical system.
- The cooperative holds easements over properties it doesn’t own and where existing powerlines run.
- This provides SVEC the necessary access for ongoing infrastructure improvements or maintenance.
- Easements are legal documents granting SVEC access to property for the purpose of constructing, operating and maintaining equipment and lines.
- Easements also allow for right-of-way maintenance that includes clearing, trimming, and removal of vegetation.
- Easements are required from each landowner.
- Easements are areas designated for overhead and underground utility access and are usually defined when a lot or neighborhood is first platted.
- Easements are implemented because it is more efficient and less expensive to run utility lines straight through neighborhoods than it is to run them around parcels of land.
- Having right-of-way means that utilities can access the area to fix a utility-related problem or to perform maintenance.
- Easements outline general property rights by others while right-of-way (as its name implies) is a specific property right.
Shouldn’t you already have an easement on file? Why do you need a new one?
Yes, while we have an easement currently, a new one is necessary for the purpose of adding verbiage regarding communication services to the type of construction/improvements SVEC can make within this utility right of way. Some of the easements that we have already include the ‘telecommunications’ verbiage. We will research all existing easements, before requesting new/additional ones.
Will this affect electric rates?
- Like any long-term capital investment the cooperative makes, the fiberoptic upgrades will incur maintenance costs over time that will be among the factors considered by the board of directors in determining any potential adjustment to SVEC’s rates.
Current ISP Partnerships (December 2021)
- On Dec. 13, 2021, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the awarding of funds through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative to All Points Broadband and the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission to bring broadband to unserved areas within SVEC’s territory. Read the press release here.
- In August 2020, the SVEC board voted to explore broadband partnership opportunities in each locality that paired up with our previously approved fiber project.
- The cooperative entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) as part of achieving the board’s directive of using the fiber network primarily for electric communication needs, while also serving as a middle mile provider.
- The MOU is between Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, All Points Broadband and Dominion Virginia Power in an effort to extend broadband service to unserved parts of the cooperative’s service territory.
- These three entities met with representatives from multiple counties to introduce the project concept and invite the localities to join the MOU.
- While SVEC does not anticipate becoming an internet service provider, the board feels strongly about trying to find solutions by way of partnership to help with the rural broadband challenge.
- The MOU, and any project born from it, is a fulfillment of the board’s 2020 goal.
- The cooperative looks forward to working with localities interested in this partnership and remains open to further discussion with additional internet service providers.