Suit could stymie broadband expansion

A lawsuit filed in October against Rappahannock Electric Cooperative could hamstring efforts to expand broadband access in Louisa County.

A Culpeper landowner challenged the cooperative’s right to use an electric easement on his property to install broadband services, as permitted by a law the Virginia General Assembly passed in 2020.

The law’s passage was hailed by legislators who say that electric cooperatives like Rappahannock are well-positioned to provide broadband to rural residents. Central Virginia Electric Cooperative is in the midst of a five-year plan to extend broadband access to 3,500 customers in western Louisa. REC is under pressure to do the same in its service area, which includes much of the rest of the county.

The landowners, John and Cynthia Grano, filed suit in Charlottesville federal court claiming that REC had deprived them of financial compensation they have a right to for use of the easement. They claimed that before the General Assembly passed the easement law, the cooperative tried to buy a new easement from them.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed a notice of intent to intervene in the court case on Dec. 10. 

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many Virginians to move school, work, healthcare, and almost every other part of daily life online,” Herring said. “Transitioning to an almost exclusively online lifestyle has really highlighted just how critical rural broadband access is. This is why I’m fighting to defend this important policy in court, because we need to make rural broadband access a top priority throughout the Commonwealth.”

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