Electric co-op taps Ciena to bolster middle mile network in VA, NC

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) is using Ciena tech to build middle mile backbone scalable from 100G to 400G.

MEC serves 31,000 member accounts across nine Virginia counties and five North Carolina counties. It delivers broadband in its service territory through its subsidiary EMPOWER Broadband.

Specifically, the co-op is leveraging Ciena’s 8114 Coherent Aggregation Router and 5160 Service Aggregation Switch for the middle mile network. A Ciena spokesperson said MEC’s deployment is currently in progress and expects to complete the work in 2025.

MEC is also using Ciena’s Manage, Control and Plan (MCP) domain controller to gain visibility into the network.

MEC footprint
MEC footprint (MEC)

“Working with Ciena, we are addressing our electric service communications needs as well as delivering middle-mile capability for rising demand for high-speed broadband in our rural regions,” said Dwayne Long, VP of information technology at MEC, in a statement.

He added the co-op intends to pass “tens of thousands of homes, businesses, and organizations” in its deployment.

Ciena also noted its tech will support MEC’s sustainability initiatives, such as solar energy and electric car charging.

“Ciena’s broadband architecture consolidates many different devices (optical line terminal, aggregation router) into a single device, resulting in significant space and power savings versus legacy architectures,” the spokesperson explained.

The vendor is also helping open access network operator eCommunity Fiber expand its footprint in Georgia.

Rural electric co-ops are a rapidly growing cohort of broadband providers, but a number of states have roadblocks that make it difficult for utilities and municipalities to offer broadband, as BroadbandNow points out.

According to MEC’s website, it provides fiber through its subsidiary EMPOWER because Virginia state regulations do not allow electric co-ops to sell internet service.

However, state law does allow co-ops to own a subsidiary that may engage in any business legal in Virginia. But joint marketing is prohibited, so MEC doesn’t include information about EMPOWER’s service or pricing on its website.