Spring has just arrived which means the start of dig season for many internet service providers across the country. Poles are going up and cables are going down. Let’s check in with a couple VETRO customers and see what they’ve been up to.
Late last year, Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced an additional $722 million investment in closing Virginia’s digital divide, which Gov. Northam suggests the state has closed “more than 90 percent of”. A significant chunk of that funding went to VETRO customer Firefly Broadband, the broadband arm of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC). Firefly have been a longtime part of the VETRO family, and the work they’ve done in that time has blown us away.
“The grant announced today will bring universal service at gigabyte speed,” Firefly CEO Gary Wood told CBS News in December. “We’re offering a reliable, affordable internet package everywhere that’s unserved in [the remaining] 13 counties.”
As a wholly owned subsidiary of CVEC, a member-owned cooperative operating continuously since 1937, Firefly is no stranger to the needs of its rural customers. As the “fourth utility”, access to high-speed internet is no longer a mere luxury, but a necessity for families and individuals alike to stay on top of their work, school, or personal lives. Firefly pride themselves on service that is “fair, honest, and reliable”, remembering a time not so long ago when CVEC provided “reliable and affordable energy to rural Virginia when no one else would”.
This most recent infusion of state and federal funding comes as part of a project designed to provide broadband access to more than 35,000 unserved businesses and residences, putting Virginia squarely on schedule to become one of the first states to completely bridge the digital divide. With an $80m investment from the state, Firefly is leading the charge.
We spent a day with Firefly celebrating their 20,000 connection! Congratulations!
South Dakota-based Bluepeak is in the midst of its biggest expansion outside their home state to date. A VETRO customer since 2021, Bluepeak has been providing high-speed internet to South Dakotans for the better part of a decade. Their jump into broadband saw them move into neighboring states like Wyoming and North Dakota, and just last month, Bluepeak made a sizeable investment in Oklahoma.
According to Fierce Telecom, the South Dakota-based ISP has earmarked $55 million into a project that will bring lightning-fast broadband service to the town of Norman, Oklahoma’s more than 50,000 residents. A Bluepeak representative said they’d heard, through their grapevine of customers and partners, that the city was in need of more diverse service options.
“Our fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network is built to enhance growth, spur economic development, and meet the needs of consumers in Norman well into the future,” Bluepeak CEO Rich Fish told Fierce Telecom in March. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the partnership we’ve struck.”
Construction is yet to begin in Norman, but Bluepeak is hopeful that their customers will be able to plug in by the end of this year.
In the meantime, the Bluepeak team is keeping busy, with new or expanded services hitting the market in Sioux Falls, SD and Cheyenne and Laramie, WY last month alone. These projects didn’t come together overnight; since 2021, Bluepeak has invested more than $60million in the greater Sioux Falls area. According to a Sioux Falls local interviewed on KELO-TV News, the excitement is palpable: “They were doing my next-door neighbor’s, and I just yelled at him and said ‘hey, can I get hooked up too?!’”
A few hours east of Sioux Falls, in Elkhart, Indiana, Surf Internet is ramping up similar projects in their county. Boasting “the fastest internet connection in the Great Lakes Region”, this Northern Indiana ISP has been part of the VETRO family for going on three years. Serving more than 50 towns in Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, Surf’s newest project, announced in December, will bring broadband speeds of up to 10 gigs/second to their customers in La Porte.
“We are thrilled to be making this market-wide upgrade,” COO Deborah Crawford said in a Surf press release. Their goal is to offer “all La Porte residents…the opportunity to take advantage of higher speeds and continue to transform their community.”
Known across the region for their reliability, Surf isn’t limiting its upgrade to La Porte alone. Their team, made up of over 100 Indiana locals, have been working hard to bring high-speed broadband to their rural and underserved customers, not just those in major towns and cities.
Looking to Indiana’s Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program for financial backing, Surf is hoping to bring the world to even its most remote customers.
“We are applying for grant subsidies in spread-out areas that would otherwise be financially unfeasible to reach on our own,” said CEO Gene Crusie in a March 16 press release. “By partnering with local communities, we can expand our fiber network even further, opening the door for better opportunities in education, business, and personal connections.”
Surf’s commitment to strengthening their communities is nothing new to their partners and customers; the Elkhart-based ISP has been in business since 2001, when their first wireless customers were connected. Since then, they’ve gone on to lead the charge in delivering modern solutions to rural Hoosiers in their area. That community empowerment has gone a long way with their local customers.
“When we launched our community outreach…we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support,” said Chief Marketing Officer Lana Frank. “Nearly 70% of households we surveyed indicated a high level of interest for our service.”
With an initial investment of $3.6m, supplemented by $6m from the state’s grant program, construction on 250 miles of rural broadband began at the end of March, connecting about 1,500 homes to high-speed internet.