The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission approved a loan for Mecklenburg County and EMPOWER Broadband’s fiber-to-home extension project at a virtual meeting on May 27.
The $880,643.45 loan will be used to expand the FTTH broadband network with the capability of providing “up to 1 gigabit of Ultra High-Speed broadband” to customers in the Southside service area with access to broadband data services, voice, and multimedia on one network. According to the project summary, the fiber cable will pass 217 locations over a 33.25 mile area throughout the Southside area and will total $1,761,286.90 in costs. EMPOWER Broadband would provide $880,643.45 of matching funds for the project.
The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission Staff recommendation said that because of significant work remaining on existing grants and costs for the project are “inexplicably high”, no reward was recommended, however, if the Commission chose to support the request, the recommendation would be to award a loan of up to $880,643. The terms and interest rate would be determined by the Executive Director.
Comments to support the Staff recommendation stated “the cost per connection averages $8,116, which is exceptionally high considering the modest terrain in this area. The project was not submitted to VATI for funding, however, another project covering other areas of the county was submitted and approved. Given that all match is from EMPOWER without any contribution from the county and the county requested that its allocation not be used to fund this project if an award is made, staff infers that this project is not a high priority for the County”.
“The Commission has awarded nearly $3 million for development of EMPOWER’s fiber network, including a $2.6 million grant to Mecklenburg County in March 2018 and a $375,000 grant to in June 2019. More than 40% of funds remain available in the first award and the full balance remains on the second grant. In recognizing these active TRRC grants and other funding awards from VATI, it is premature to commit more funding until the previously funded projects are completed. EMPOWER has also been approved for a $9.2 million line of credit from he National Rural Utilities Coop Finance Corp. at a very low interest rate suggesting there are substantial financing commitments already available to support current network buildout needs.”
Applications are currently being accepted by EMPOWER Broadband to provide high-speed internet to customers on Highway 47 to Old Cox Road.