When Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC) brought its members electricity, it inherently ‘lit up’ the rural, mountainous areas where they reside. So, it was only natural to continue ‘bringing the light’ with its fiber broadband subsidiary, Firefly Fiber Broadband.
The goal of Firefly was to deliver fiber broadband to every single CVEC member and that was non-negotiable for the co-op – but finding a partner who could do this proved very challenging. “We put out an RFP for a company who could bring internet to every single one of our members and we didn’t expect to get a ton of responses, but we expected to get at least one,” Melissa Gay, Communications and Member Services Manager for CVEC, said. “We got none and this made us take a step back and think, ‘Is this project even possible?’”
CVEC then heard about Conexon and took one more look that led to a feasibility study for the co-op to consider all aspects of the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project. “Without Conexon and the feasibility study they did for us, we would not be here,” Gay said. “From the lack of responses before, we wouldn’t have even thought this project was achievable.”
Now, just three short years later, Firefly has connected 15,000 members and boasts take rates above 80 percent in some areas. “When you’re looking back and wondering ‘Was there really a need?’ and then you see over 80 percent of the population takes your service in a certain area, that really speaks to the desperation of these rural populations to get reliable and affordable internet,” Gay said.
What was originally slated to be a 3,500 mile, five-year FTTH project to its members, is now fast-tracked to be complete in just four years. “We’ve gone from checking off a lot of ‘firsts’ to ‘lasts’ on our checklists,” said Gary Wood, CVEC President and CEO. “We were tracking our first substation opening, the first time we were in a county, and now it’s our last substation opened in a county. There’s nothing like looking at your schedule and seeing the word ‘complete’."
But Firefly wasn’t stopping there. The fiber subsidiary has now launched the Regional Internet Service Expansion (RISE) project, an off-system build bringing fiber to 13 counties in Central Virginia.
“Our growth has surprised a lot of people,” said Wood. “We surprised people inside the electric co-op and within our community by being able to move as fast as we have.”
Through partnerships with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Dominion Energy Virginia, Firefly will build an additional 4,000 miles of fiber and pass about 36,000 homes in about three years. “With the pandemic, so much funding was made available by the federal government to help support the states in this crisis,” Gay said. “Because of these federal funds, we’ve been able to expand Firefly’s footprint and reach to offer reliable, affordable service to an additional 4,000 miles.”
"When you’re looking back and wondering ‘Was there really a need?’ and then you see over 80 percent of the population takes your service in a certain area, that really speaks to the desperation of these rural populations to get reliable and affordable internet.”
This fiber-to-the-home project for CVEC has been more than just a business venture, it’s been a project from the heart to ‘bring the light’ to every single member.
“We talk about how fireflies here light up the mountains on the warm summer nights, and we thought, this is just how our fiber will go off into every hollow, every mountain, every dirt road, to bring fiber to rural central Virginians where they haven’t had it before-- just bringing light,” Gay said.
“We were tracking our first substation opening, the first time we were in a county, and now it’s our last substation opened in a county. There’s nothing like looking at your schedule and seeing the word ‘complete’."