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Virginia SCC approves Appalachian Power's broadband pilot program

May 14, 2020

INDEPENDENCE, Va. – Appalachian Power’s request to implement a pilot program that will deliver broadband technology in rural Grayson County has received initial approval from the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

“This is one of the proudest moments I’ve experienced during my nine General Assembly sessions,” said Del. Israel O’Quinn, who championed the 2019 legislation authorizing the pilot. “I’m grateful to the SCC for seeing the merits of this project. Our schools, libraries and public safety agencies will have service, and residents will finally have the ability to perform normal everyday functions online.”

Efforts to secure legislative and SCC approval for the pilot program began more than a year ago. “I want to thank everyone who worked on this project,” said Bill Shepley, Grayson County administrator. “The availability of high-speed internet will improve our citizens’ overall quality of life. It also strengthens our business recruitment efforts by affirming we have access to what today is considered an essential service.”

The pilot program grants Appalachian Power authorization to install up to 238 miles of 96-strand fiber optic cable on its utility poles in Grayson County. In addition to providing broadband capacity, the cable will support the company’s deployment of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) for customers, as well as equipment and technology that will pinpoint and correct faults on circuits, shortening outages.

Space on the fiber optic communications lines will be used to provide the so-called “middle mile”—or the bulk delivery—of internet service. Internet service provider GigaBeam Networks of Bluefield, Virginia, has agreed to establish and offer the “last-mile” connectivity to Grayson County’s unserved customers.  

“We are pleased with the SCC’s decision,” said Chris Beam, Appalachian Power president and COO, who added that the company is preparing a detailed engineering study, negotiating a contract with GigaBeam and developing the necessary rate adjustment clause filing. “Our goal is to provide a safe and reliable product for our customers, while also doing all we can to support the communities in which we live, work and provide service.”

Grayson County has received two grants totaling approximately $1.8 million from the Commonwealth to be used toward making broadband available for unserved and underserved citizens.

“This is a significant project for all of us,” said Michael Clemmons with GigaBeam Networks. “With the SCC’s approval of Appalachian Power’s pilot program, we are one step closer to being able to bring service to even more areas in the county.”    

Appalachian Power has 1 million customers in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee (as AEP Appalachian Power). It is part of American Electric Power, which is focused on building a smarter energy infrastructure and delivering new technologies and custom energy solutions. AEP’s more than 17,400 employees operate and maintain the nation’s largest electricity transmission system and more than 221,000 miles of distribution lines to efficiently deliver safe, reliable power to nearly 5.4 million customers in 11 states. AEP is also one of the nation’s largest electricity producers with approximately 31,000 megawatts of diverse generating capacity, including 5,200 megawatts of renewable energy.

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