AEP has been providing reliable electric service to our customers for more than 116 years. This includes supplying a critical source of energy that enables safety, comfort and today’s modern amenities. Our commitment to energy access and reliability is deeply rooted in our history of innovation and dedication to powering a new and brighter future for our customers and communities.
We are expanding on our commitment of keeping the lights on to keeping our customers connected through broadband investments. Broadband technology has proven to be critical to the economic development and well-being of rural communities and other underserved areas. However, today the urban-rural divide is digital through the high-speed flow of information via broadband. This is especially true in some of our most remote areas such as Virginia and West Virginia.
Telecommunications companies have built broadband infrastructure where it makes business sense to do so. However, providing broadband service to rural homes and businesses is costly because it requires building lengthy “middle-mile” infrastructure in order to connect those homes and businesses to the network.
As one of the largest electric energy companies in the U.S., we power millions of homes and businesses, including those in hundreds of small communities. In fact, the majority of AEP’s service territory is located in rural areas. This requires an expansive network of transmission and distribution lines to operate our electric system. In addition, we have one of the largest private telecommunications networks in the U.S. With our network already in many places where middle-mile fiber is needed, we knew we had an opportunity to help bring broadband to unserved communities in a way others could not. We developed a solution to install additional fiber capacity in rural areas and lease that capacity for middle-mile broadband to a telecommunications partner, who would then add last-mile connections and provide broadband to unserved rural customers.
Installing middle-mile fiber for broadband expansion is typically outside of AEP’s scope of work. To move forward with our proposed solution in Virginia and West Virginia, we engaged at the local, state and federal levels, developed partnerships with companies to deliver broadband to end-use residents and businesses, petitioned for state and federal grant funding, and worked with business partners to define contract standards. As a result, from 2018 through 2020, Appalachian Power successfully pushed five pieces of legislation – three in Virginia and two in West Virginia – that enabled us to construct and own middle-mile fiber.
In December 2021, the first of these projects came to fruition when the Elk Creek Volunteer Fire Department became the first customer to receive high-speed internet service in rural Grayson County, Virginia. More than 6,000 customers identified in the Grayson County project area are expected to gain access to broadband over the next year. Construction is also underway in Logan and Mingo counties that will make broadband access available to more than 15,000 unserved customers in West Virginia.
In 2022, AEP received the Edison Electric Institute Advocacy Excellence Award, recognizing AEP’s efforts to expand broadband access throughout Virginia and West Virginia.
The global pandemic in 2020 exposed how essential broadband access is and how vulnerable rural areas are without it. AEP believes middle-mile broadband is a right-now issue for all of rural America, for which we, and our industry, have an answer. We are exploring new options for the dual use of fiber for grid modernization and enabling internet service providers (ISPs) to make the final connection to areas that lack broadband coverage. We are advocating for legislation in many of our states that would specifically authorize us to invest in “middle mile” fiber infrastructure that we could then lease to ISPs for the purpose of their broadband service expansion.