Orange, cooperative agree to broadband lease

Customers of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative in Louisa may soon cast their eyes longingly toward Orange County, where co-op members could have high-speed internet access as soon as this year.

The Orange County Broadband Authority signed a deal Dec. 17 to lease capacity on 19 miles of a fiber-optic line the cooperative is building between Paytes, in Orange County, and Culpeper.

“This project should enable future opportunities for third parties or the county to provide high-speed Internet to homes and businesses,” said Jim White, who chairs the county’s board of supervisors and broadband authority.

Lewis Foster, Orange County’s broadband manager, said his goal is to start connecting private homes to fiber by next fall. The county is now recruiting internet service providers to provide the service.

Rappahannock announced earlier this year it would build a fiber-optic network to provide better service to its electric customers. The cooperative has said it won’t commit to provide internet service directly to members. Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, which serves about 3,500 customers in Louisa County, did so in 2017 when it formed an internet subsidiary, Firefly Fiber Broadband.

Louisa County officials have had some dialogue with REC about its plans to build fiber in this area, but so far nothing has emerged comparable to what is envisioned in Orange County.

“REC is open to meeting with localities and other third parties throughout our service territory to discuss our fiber utility network and how we can work together,” said Casey Hollins, an REC spokesperson.

At 19 miles, the REC lease will still only cover a small part of Orange County. Foster said he would like to share ideas with officials in Louisa and other neighboring localities on how to extend service to more residents.

“Solving the issue is bigger than one county,” he said. “We need folks to work together regionally.”

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