Broadband pilot program progress update

April 27, 2022 Update

NorthState and Orange County have announced a public-private partnership to bring ultra-high-speed fiber internet service to approximately 28,000 homes and businesses in Orange County, North Carolina, including nearly 10,000 locations that currently have little or no internet service. The project, one of the largest fiber infrastructure public-private partnerships in N.C.’s history, is made possible by significant investments from both NorthState and Orange County. The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on approval Tuesday evening.

Orange County is using funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide fiber service to close to 10,000 addresses in unserved and underserved areas. NorthState’s own investment expands the project and will result in access to best-in-class fiber technology and a competitive choice for fiber service for the additional 18,000 Orange County homes and businesses.

As part of its partnership with Orange County, NorthState will also provide fiber internet service to approximately two dozen county-owned anchor institutions, including fire stations, EMS and community centers.

NorthState will begin work within weeks to initiate the process of installing approximately 990 miles of fiber in Orange County; service is planned to be available to some areas as early as spring 2023.

“We thank the Orange County Board of Commissioners for selecting NorthState for this crucial community project to help close the digital divide. For those in Orange County who currently have little or no access to fiber internet, this project will be life-changing. It’s simply the fastest internet available,” NorthState CEO Diego Anderson said. “NorthState and Orange County are jointly making large investments in Orange County by installing a fiber-optic network that is future-proof, one that will fuel continuing growth and expanded economic opportunities.”

“Orange County is a key part of NorthState’s commitment to empowering communities with 100% fiber-to-the-home access,” Anderson added. “And we’re just getting started. NorthState is actively looking for opportunities to partner with communities to bring ultra-high-speed fiber internet to additional areas.”

“Improving access to high-speed internet to all areas of the county is a priority for the Board of Commissioners, and we are excited to begin this project using $10 million of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funding,” said Orange County Commissioner Sally Greene, who co-chaired the Orange County Broadband Task Force along with Commissioner Earl McKee. “Orange County is leading the way in crafting a solution to this problem that challenges so many counties.”

“Broadband isn’t a luxury item, it’s an essential need for everyday living,” said McKee. “What we have learned in the past two years is that high-speed internet is vital for improving educational success for children, for public health and for public safety, to grow small businesses and for our residents who may need to work remotely.”

NorthState’s product offering in Orange County will offer speeds up to 2000 Mbps x 2000 Mbps — equating to 154x faster uploads and 12x faster downloads than traditional cable. Residents in the expansion areas will receive communications by mail before construction begins and again when the service is available to order. Consumers can sign up for email updates at NorthState.net.

Northstate logoAbout NorthState

NorthState provides ultra-high-speed fiber internet service, wall-to-wall Wi-Fi, voice, and streaming services to nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in North Carolina and Virginia, where we’re known as Lumos. Our customers enjoy the fastest, symmetrical gig speeds available built on a 100% fiber-optic network they can truly count on — all backed by local, expert customer care teams. Learn more at NorthState.net.

About the Orange County Broadband Task Force

The Orange County Broadband Task Force began meeting in March 2021 to design a strategy for expanding reliable high-speed internet services throughout the underserved areas of the county. When ARPA funding became available for Broadband, the task force designed the RFP that was released in September 2021 and created a scoring matrix to review the submissions.

March 17, 2022 Update

The regional partnership powered by Piedmont Electric, Person County Government, and RiverStreet Networks continues to focus on improving the broadband in the region. Significant first steps have already been put into place to create a wireless broadband network in four regions of Person County. This partnership has contribution funding from Person County Government, the North Carolina Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Grant program, and RiverStreet Networks. To find out if service is available at your location, key in your address at myriverstreet.net/piedmont.

RiverStreet Networks is teaming up with local businesses to provide free WiFi hotspots for students, educators, and employees who may not have connectivity while at home in Person County. We encourage all Person County residents interested in internet access to visit myriverstreet.net/piedmont and enter their address so RiverStreet Networks can determine if your location is in a good location for their wireless system.

Piedmont Electric is working diligently to close broadband gaps in ways that are efficient and affordable.

While broadband expansion to rural areas is a priority for Piedmont Electric Cooperative and for our member-owners, we do not support the cost shifting from multi-billion-dollar communication companies to our electric co-op members.   

Under current practice, a communications company is responsible for paying the full cost to make a utility pole ready for the communications company’s broadband equipment, including the cost of replacing the utility pole if replacement is required.

Shifting costs to co-op members is unacceptable, especially when the cost shift benefits a company that already won millions in federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grants to cover the all-in costs of deploying rural broadband.

We appreciate our legislators looking out for our electric cooperative members who want broadband access but shouldn’t bear the cost to subsidize for-profit communications companies to get it.

Piedmont Electric will always keep our focus on controlling costs because we are owned by our members.  We are a nonprofit electric cooperative and any additional expenses to the electric co-op is an additional expense for our members.

 

December 2021 Update

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded grants to telecommunications providers through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).

Through RDOF, telecommunication providers submitted bids to provide internet service to specific, predefined areas. The bids would be considered on how many people the telecommunications company could serve; what download and upload speeds they could off er; and the cost of providing this service.

In this initial phase, 180 bidders won more than $9.2 billion to provide broadband service in 49 states including more than $106 million in North Carolina.

Unfortunately, almost the entirety of these funds in our service area went to a single provider, Charter Communications. SpaceX also won a few small portions and unfortunately RiverStreet Networks was not awarded funds as we had hoped.

Companies awarded RDOF funds for an area are the only entities that can receive future federal funds to provide service to that area which greatly impacts our plans for a RiverStreet Networks expansion in our counties with the exception of Person County.

Charter Communications will have six years from the time they start receiving the funds to provide service to the areas they were awarded, or they will have to return the funds they were awarded plus pay a penalty.

While we wished the federal government’s RDOF awards had been different, please know that Piedmont Electric will continue to support efforts to bring highspeed internet to the underserved areas of our community. This includes RiverStreet Network’s project in Person County and our free WiFi hotspots at our Roxboro office, Caswell office and the Cherry Grove Ruritan Club.

 

July 2021 – Broadband available in Person County

Person County

A wireless internet expansion project is under way in Person County as the result of RiverStreet Networks acquiring NC Lightleap in 2020. NC Lightleap was selected by Person County in their earlier efforts to develop a network solution with the buildout of communication towers.

RiverStreet Networks will offer service in large portions of Person County with overlap in parts of Caswell, Durham, Granville and Orange counties in North Carolina and Halifax County in Virginia. The green areas on the map below show the areas potentially available for service.

RiverStreet Networks Person County Map

In an effort to express your interest and get on the list, let your voice be heard by visiting Join.BuildPiedmont.com today! RiverStreet Networks representatives will follow up with you when the service is available in your area.

Caswell County

We are pleased to announce that funding coupled with interest from members in Caswell County has resulted in the future buildout of a wireless network to 2,918 households and businesses in Caswell County. This is made possible by funding awarded to RiverStreet Networks from the NC GREAT Grant Program in the amount of $1.5 million. RiverStreet Networks will provide the match for this project of $1.1 million. Stay tuned for further updates on the progress in Caswell County in future Carolina Country magazines.

While these projects will take time to complete, Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet are committed to bringing a better internet solution to those who need and want it.

March 2021 – Broadband pilot program continues to make progress

Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet Networks launched a broadband pilot program survey in December 2019 to gauge interest to determine if a reliable, affordable internet service could be supported in the unserved and underserved areas of our communities. Many of you have indicated interest by signing up at join.buildpiedmont.com.

While this information was being collected, there was funding sought from county, state, and federal programs. We are pleased to announce that funding coupled with interest from members in Caswell County has resulted in the future buildout of a wireless solution to 2,918 households and businesses in the Caswell area. More information about the Caswell County award can be found on our website.

There is also a wireless internet expansion project underway in Person County as the result of RiverStreet Networks acquiring NC Lightleap in 2020. NC Lightleap had been selected by Person County in their earlier efforts to develop a network solution with the buildout of communication towers. Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet Networks are currently working out the details of our agreement and hope to have information, including timelines, to share in the near future.

While these projects will take time to complete, Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet are committed to bringing a better internet solution to those who need and want it.

We are still gauging interest from our members express your interest today!

Watch for future updates about these projects as details become available.

 

November 2020 – Free WiFi hotspot locations announced

Since Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet Networks announced the launch of their broadband pilot program in December 2019, we are 50 percent towards our goal of members expressing an interest in a better internet service (as of Oct. 30).

While long-term internet solutions are being researched, Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet Networks have worked together to provide free WiFi hotspots in rural communities where broadband internet service can be unreliable or expensive.

Currently, Piedmont Electric’s branch offices in Person and Caswell County offer free WiFi hotspots, and thanks to the Cherry Grove Ruritan Club in Reidsville, NC, a new site is being set up at their parking lot. Individuals can access the internet from the safety of their vehicles at all three locations. The free access name is PEMC-Free-WiFi at all locations.

In addition to the short-term WiFi hotspot solution, Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet Networks are preparing for the next stage of the broadband pilot program by researching state, regional and federal funding opportunities. Depending on funding and level of interest, the next stage will be planning the installation of high-speed wireless internet service or fiber to the home where financially viable.

Remember, the more people who express a need for a better internet option in their area, the sooner RiverStreet Networks can support the business case to begin preparing broadband deployment. This is a grassroots effort and will require everyone spreading the word. You do not have to be a Piedmont Electric member to let your voice be heard.

Visit Website Today

August 2020 – Broadband pilot program continues to make progress

Since Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet Networks announced the launch of their broadband pilot program in December, we are 44 percent towards our goal of members expressing an interest in a better internet service (as of August).

A lot has changed during the past nine months. A global pandemic has made reliable, affordable internet service more important now than ever. Our students are learning through distance education, our members are working from home, patients are using telemedicine and friends and families are keeping in touch through video chats.

During that time, both Piedmont Electric and RiverStreet have been hard at work to bring a sustainable, long-term internet solution to the unserved and underserved members of our communities.

Currently, we are looking at the placement of hotspots to give our members viable options while a long-term solution is found. RiverStreet and Piedmont Electric are engaged in conversations with local officials and are reviewing state, regional and federal funding opportunities. This is occurring while you share with us your interest in a reliable and improved broadband option.

This is a grassroots effort and will require everyone spreading the word. Remember, you do not have to be a Piedmont Electric member to let your voice be heard.