In cooperative living room, users go hands-on with broadband
by Steven Johnson, Staff Writer
At the dawn of rural electrification, cooperatives formed community living rooms and kitchens to show members how this new thing called electricity could power appliances and change their lives.
More than 80 years later, RURALBAND, Prince George Electric Cooperative’s broadband subsidiary, is putting a high-tech twist on the cooperative “living room.”
In September, co-op representatives, elected officials and dignitaries cut a blue ribbon to mark the opening of the RURALBAND living room at the Eastside Community Enhancement Center in Dinwiddie County, Va.
The comfy space includes all manner of electronics, including a laptop, a TV and a voice assistant, to enhance digital literacy in an underserved area south of Richmond.
“When electric cooperatives started, if you grew up on a farm, you basically used electricity for lights,” says Casey Logan, president and CEO of PGEC and RURALBAND. “Cooperatives brought in residents to show them, ‘This is an oven. This is a washing machine.’ They would bring in appliances for the community to get hands-on experience.”
With the cooperative living room, “this is the same principle, but with different technology,” he says.
The facility is part of RURALBAND’s expansion into Dinwiddie, undertaken with partners including Southside Electric Cooperative, Dominion Energy, the Petersburg-based Cameron Foundation and state agencies.
RURALBAND offers fiber-to-the-home internet to more than 430 Dinwiddie residences, and a state grant will enable it to provide add more than 1,600 connections, as the living room, similar to one in Surry County, serves as a community clearinghouse.
“The space is welcoming, inviting and, most of all, functional,” says Harrison Moody, chairman of the Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors.
Residents peppered RURALBAND General Manager Lane Chambers with questions as he conducted a walk-through of the living room.
“It’s not enough just to hook up people,” he says. “You need to show them what they can do with it. It’s part of our mission.”