Elk Creek Vol. Fire Dept. becomes first in Grayson County with broadband access

New River Valley News

(Photo: Courtesy Appalachian Power)

GRAYSON COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — On Tuesday, Appalachian Power joined elected officials and internet service provider GigaBeam Networks at a Grayson County firehouse to celebrate a broadband milestone for the county.

According to Appalachian Power, the Elk Creek Volunteer Fire Department recently became the first in the Grayson County to have access to high-speed internet delivered over fiber optic cable attached to the company’s power poles.

“This is a tremendous event for Grayson County,” Brad Hall, Appalachian Power vice president of external affairs, said in a statement on Tuesday, Dec. 14. “What we are witnessing is the culmination of much hard work and dedication on the part of our company and partners, GigaBeam and Grayson County, and demonstrates high-speed internet access is possible in rural America.”

The company says crews installed the first fiber optic cable on Appalachian Power’s poles in December 2020. As construction progresses, GigaBeam Networks — a Bluefield internet service provider — is finishing the necessary work to offer “last-mile” connectivity to Grayson County’s unserved customers.

The Elk Creek Volunteer Fire Department is reportedly the first of more than 6,000 customers identified in the project expected to have access to broadband over the next year.

“It is exciting to see the first high-speed internet connection coming to fruition in Grayson County,” said Del. Israel O’Quinn, who championed the 2019 bipartisan legislation that changed the delivery model for broadband in Virginia. “I’m grateful to my legislative colleagues who saw the merits of the bill. Through this legislation, we were able to cut at least a decade off the timetable for universal coverage across the county.”

Appalachian Power says the Virginia State Corporation Commission approved the pilot project in March 2020, authorizing the company to install up to 238 miles of 96-strand fiber optic cable on its utility poles in the rural county.

After that, Appalachian Power reportedly negotiated a contract and timeline with GigaBeam, studied and engineered the fiber optic network, inspected power poles, and ordered supplies and equipment.

“Our company is proud to partner and play an integral part in bringing quality high-speed internet service to Grayson County,” Michael Clemons, CEO of GigaBeam Networks, said. “We want to be part of the broadband solution for communities like Elk Creek, and the opportunity to include the volunteer fire department as one of our first Grayson County customers makes our work even more meaningful.”

“It’s hard to find adequate words to describe what this means to our county,” said Grayson County Administrator Bill Shepley, who was one of the guest speakers at the celebration. “The pandemic has driven home the need for digital access, and this project has shown us and communities around the country that broadband access is possible in rural, mountainous areas where homes and businesses are spread apart.”

In addition to providing broadband capacity, Appalachian Power says the fiber optic cable will support the company’s deployment of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) — or smart meters for customers — along with equipment and technology that will pinpoint and correct faults on circuits, shortening outages.

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