Casey Logan was in a quandary.
The electric cooperative in rural Virginia that he leads is delivering future-proof fiber broadband internet to a county that lacks access at any speed. But a large number of members, mainly older residents on fixed incomes, have been skeptical.
What could he do to help them see firsthand how broadband service at the fastest speed available might improve their lives?
After pondering the question and consulting other co-op CEOs, he and his team at Prince George Electric Cooperative and its broadband subsidiary RURALBAND thought back to the “co-op kitchens” of the 1950s, where members first saw modern electric appliances when they came in to pay their bills.
“The co-op would bring in refrigerators and stoves to really show members the benefits of electricity in their home, that the power that we supplied can do more than give you light,” said Logan, PGEC’s president and CEO.
With that concept in mind, the Waverly-based co-op recently opened a “broadband living room” at the Surry County Community Center.
Complete with sleek furnishings, a smart TV, laptops, tablets, an Xbox gaming system, a cordless phone and smart security cameras, the room gives visitors a chance to learn in a real-life setting how to use the internet for everything from shopping and distance learning to telemedicine and running an online business.
“The ‘living room’ is set up to really show them what the options are for their home once they get the broadband service,” said Logan. “We want to educate our members…that you can do so much more with internet than Facebook and Google searches.”
A separate office space allows members to experience teleworking while their kids play with smart devices.
PGEC partnered with the county for use of the space and has a RURALBAND staffer on site regularly to sit down with members and talk about the benefits of fiber broadband.
“We are giving them the best technology and the best service available anywhere,” said Logan. “In a lot of cases, our fixed-income member is saving money with broadband by switching their television service and landline. High-speed internet is icing on the cake.”
Gov. Ralph Northam attended an Aug. 27 ribbon-cutting for the living room and lauded the co-op’s leadership in making Surry County one of the first in the state to get universal broadband.
“I’m here on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia to say congratulations for a job well done,” the Democratic governor said.
RURALBAND fiber will be available to all of Surry County’s 8,000 residents by the end of October, with speeds up to one gigabit per second. By the end of 2022, it will reach all 12,000 members in the co-op’s six-county territory southeast of Richmond.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.