Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative’s (BREC) $2.5 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative for the installation of 168 miles of fiber project that will connect the co-op’s substations in six counties of the eastern portion of its service territory was hailed by Lt. Governor Jon Husted as “critically important for the future of the region.”
The initiative, which will improve service reliability and security and utilize available technologies among BREC’s substations via a fiber infrastructure, was celebrated at a Nov. 7 announcement at the University of Rio Grande, attended by Husted; John Carey, director of the governor’s officer of Appalachia; Ryan Smith, president of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College; and Kent Eldridge, BREC vice president of member services. The infrastructure will allow for future broadband expansion by internet service providers (ISP), who will supply “last mile” service to connect homes and businesses to high-speed internet in the remote unserved and underserved areas of Gallia, Vinton, Meigs, Athens, Lawrence, and Jackson counties.
“Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative is committing $1.1 million to the project, with the ARC POWER Initiative grant providing the additional $2.5 million, or 70%, of the $3.6 million cost. It will take three years to complete the project,” said Eldridge. “There must be a starting point for broadband to reach remote rural areas. The ARC grant will provide just that, and Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative will be the vehicle to transport service, thanks to the initial Southeast Ohio Broadband Backbone project.”
Carey thanked BREC and noted his pride that the co-op stood up to address the issue of rural broadband access. He further stated that BREC serves as an example to the state’s electric cooperative network.
Thursday’s event, hosted by Smith, introduced one of 54 investments totaling $44.4 million via ARC’s POWER initiative, a congressionally funded opportunity targeting federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries, as a result of the changing economics of America’s energy production.
A portion of the ARC POWER Initiative funds were set aside to fund broadband deployment projects that enhance access to and the use of broadband services, which is a critical infrastructure component needed by all segments of the community for business development, job creation, and health care services (including telemedicine). Broadband expansion is necessary in order to help rural areas compete with more densely populated areas.
Founded in 1938, not-for-profit, Rio Grande-based Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative serves approximately 19,000 consumer-members in parts of Athens, Gallia, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pike, Ross, Scioto, and Vinton counties.