INDEPENENCE, Va. — Appalachian Power recently joined elected officials and internet service provider GigaBeam Networks to mark a broadband milestone in Grayson County. In mid-December, the Elk Creek Volunteer Fire Department became the first in the county to have access to high-speed internet delivered over fiber optic cable attached to the company’s power poles.
Crews installed the first fiber optic cable on Appalachian Power’s poles in December 2020. As construction progresses, internet service provider, GigaBeam Networks of Bluefield, Virginia, is completing work needed to offer “last-mile” connectivity to Grayson County’s unserved customers. The volunteer fire department is the first of more than 6,000 customers identified in the project area 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 gained approval for the pilot project from the Virginia State Corporation Commission in March 2020, which authorized the company to install up to 238 miles of 96-strand fiber optic cable on its utility poles in the rural county. After that, the company 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,” said Michael Clemons, GigaBeam Networks CEO. “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.”
Grayson County Administrator Bill Shepley was among the guest speakers at the celebration. “It’s hard to find adequate words to describe what this means to our county,” said Shepley. “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, the fiber optic cable will support Appalachian Power’s deployment of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) or smart meters for customers, as well as equipment and technology that will pinpoint and correct faults on circuits, shortening outages.
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 approximately 16,800 employees operate and maintain the nation’s largest electricity transmission system and more than 223,000 miles of distribution lines to efficiently deliver safe, reliable power to nearly 5.5 million customers in 11 states. AEP is also one of the nation’s largest electricity producers with approximately 30,000 megawatts of diverse generating capacity, including 5,500 megawatts of renewable energy.