Tag: "south carolina"

Posted January 4, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Pageland, South Carolina, a small rural town in Chesterfield County, is known for its watermelon. The town once billed itself as the “Watermelon Capital of the World” and still hosts an annual Watermelon Festival every summer that draws thousands of visitors each year. But these days something different is growing off the vine out of Pageland that is rejuvenating the region.

Spanning three rural counties in the north-central part of the state, the Lynches River Electric Cooperative (LREC) – a member-owned cooperative headquartered in Pageland – announced a partnership with North Carolina-based Fiber Optic Solutions in January of 2020 on the start of construction for a fiber-to-the-home network. Through its wholly-owned subsidiary RiverNet Connect, the “goal is to provide world-class Internet [access] to every house, on every dirt road that wants it and we won’t stop until we’ve done just that.”

High Speed Construction and Service

Having already deployed fiber to connect its electric substations, in June of 2019 LREC surveyed its members to gauge whether they wanted the co-op to extend the network and begin offering high-speed Internet service. Over 5,000 members responded to the survey indicating they were overwhelmingly in favor of the idea.

Two months later, the LREC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to bring fiber Internet service in phases to its members living in Chesterfield, Kershaw, and Lancaster counties. That was followed by an announcement in October of 2019 at LREC’s annual membership meeting that the co-op had created RiverNet Connect.

The 82-year-old cooperative, which currently serves 21,000 members, began building the fiber-to-the-home network in February of 2020. But, despite the challenges of working in the middle of a pandemic, by May of 2020 construction crews were deploying between 12 to 20 miles of fiber per week,...

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Posted August 10, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Two utility cooperatives in South Carolina – one electric, the other a telephone co-op – have teamed up and are now cooperating to bring fiber-to-the-home Internet service to members living in Anderson, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties.

In September 2020, the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative (BREC) announced the partnership with WCFIBER, a subsidiary of the West Carolina Telephone Cooperative (WCTEL). WCFIBER has a well-established reputation as a rural broadband provider – serving Abbeville, McCormick, and Greenwood counties, as well as parts of Columbia County, GA – while BREC has a long and proud history delivering electricity to residents and businesses who call this part rural/part suburban corner of South Carolina home.

It’s a partnership that has given birth to Upcountry Fiber, a new subsidiary owned by Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. The plan is to build out the network incrementally with construction expected to take five years to complete. BREC is not only focused on serving its 25,000 members, when the network is fully built-out, all 64,890 households and businesses in Blue Ridge’s 1,800 square mile service area will have access to gigabit speed fiber connectivity.

BREC has approximately 9,100 members in Anderson County, 4,500 in Greenville County, 31 in Spartanburg County, with the rest split between Oconee and Pickens counties.

Using a combination of BREC and WCTEL capital and loans, the $150 million cost and labor required to build the network will be shared by both cooperatives. BREC is building the core network by deploying fiber along its...

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Posted February 17, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant deadline funded by Truist Bank and administered by the Internet Society has been extended by two weeks from its original deadline of February 19 in the wake of the weather hammering eligible areas over the last few days. There's nothing like a severe winter event that knocks power out for millions to break up the monotony of a raging pandemic. 

Grant applications are now due March 5th by 11:59pm. 

Read our original story about the grant program below:

A new grant program funded by Truist Bank's philanthropic initiative and administered by the Internet Society will disburse $1 million in funds to seven community broadband projects over the next year and a half. The Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program is currently soliciting applications, with grants to be disbursed to eligible communities across the southeast United States, including Washington D.C. and Texas, ranging from $125,000-180,000. The program is aimed at kickstarting Covid 19 relief efforts but also providing essential, locally owned broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved communities.

From the grant program website:

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of broadband Internet connectivity into focus as work, school, healthcare, and more shift online. Internet connectivity is more important than ever in keeping our lives moving . . . The $1 million Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program supports broadband initiatives in the southeastern United States . . . As the administrating partner, the Internet Society will support local broadband expansion by funding complementary Internet connectivity solutions to help alleviate disparities in education, employment, and social welfare that are exacerbated by lack of access to broadband.

See eligibility requirements below:

  • Timeframe – project must show tangible results within a year of receiving funding. Funding will occur in two stages between April and December 2021.
  • Location – project must be completed in one of the following states: North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Washington DC, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia,...
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Posted January 28, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

A new grant program funded by Truist Bank's philanthropic initiative and administered by the Internet Society will disburse $1 million in funds to seven community broadband projects over the next year and a half. The Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program is currently soliciting applications, with grants to be disbursed to eligible communities across the southeast United States, including Washington D.C. and Texas, ranging from $125,000-180,000. The program is aimed at kickstarting Covid 19 relief efforts but also providing essential, locally owned broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved communities.

From the grant program website:

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of broadband Internet connectivity into focus as work, school, healthcare, and more shift online. Internet connectivity is more important than ever in keeping our lives moving . . . The $1 million Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant program supports broadband initiatives in the southeastern United States . . . As the administrating partner, the Internet Society will support local broadband expansion by funding complementary Internet connectivity solutions to help alleviate disparities in education, employment, and social welfare that are exacerbated by lack of access to broadband.

See eligibility requirements below:

  • Timeframe – project must show tangible results within a year of receiving funding. Funding will occur in two stages between April and December 2021.
  • Location – project must be completed in one of the following states: North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Washington DC, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland.
  • Bandwidth – project must provide a minimum broadband threshold for deployment.
  • Applicant must have an official bank account in their name (based on their legal registration) in order to be eligible for a grant.

In addition, projects will be chosen based on their ability to demonstrate community support with participation from local leaders, a minimum bandwidth requirement, finance skills, an assessment of local ordinances and assets friendly to quick deployment, the participation of local private industry partners, and a summary of the...

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Posted October 8, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

All across the country, municipal networks, cooperatives, and cities have been putting in extra effort to make sure that Americans have the fast, affordable, reliable Internet access they need to conduct their lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

AT&T has decided to take another route. A USA Today report last week revealed that the company has stopped making connections to users subscribing to its ADSL Internet as of October 1st. Anyone calling the company to set up new service is being told that no new accounts are being accepted. 

The decision comes right as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has released a report detailing that only 28% of AT&T’s territory can get fiber from the company. AT&T has deliberately focused investment in more urban areas of higher income. From the report:

The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500. 

The Deep South Hit Hardest

As of today, it looks like the most conservative number of those affected by the decision will be about 80,000 households that have no other option. Our analysis using the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 data shows that the Deep South will be hit the hardest (see table at the bottom of the page). 

Collectively it means more than 207,000 Americans who, if disconnected, will have no option for Internet aside from their mobile devices or satellite service. The number of Americans affected by the decision but which have additional wireline options is higher: roughly 2.2 million American households nationwide subscribe to the service (see map, below).  

At this point the decision seems only to affect those subscribing to the company’s ADSL service. Those subscribing to ADSL2 and asymmetric VDSL won’...

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Posted November 18, 2019 by Sayidali Moalim

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently awarded a $2.85 million grant to Forked Deer Electric Cooperative headquartered in Halls, Tennessee, and $9.75 million to Orangeburg County, South Carolina to develop broadband infrastructure. The awardees will use the ReConnect grants to construct or expand existing Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to thousands of households, critical community facilities, and educational facilities.

A Reconnect Primer

In 2019, Congress allocated $600 million for the ReConnect Program to help expand high-quality Internet access to rural America. Applicants can apply for a 100 percent grant, 100 percent loan, or a grant-loan combination. The ReConnect Program provides funding to allow for-profit companies, rural cooperatives, local governments, and tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure under specific guidelines. The service area for qualified applicants must be rural communities with 90 - 100 percent of the population considered "underserved," defined as Internet access speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload or lower.

As we reported in September, more than half of the applications submitted came from cooperatives and local governments.

Orangeburg County

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Orangeburg County was awarded federal stimulus funds in 2010 and added around $4 million of their own money for rural broadband projects. Shortly following the stimulus package award, the state legislature enacted a law discouraging simlar local investment. The law requires local governments to charge rates for broadband Internet services similar rates to those of private companies, even if service could be provided at a lower cost. This law effectively limits local broadband authority and discourages communities from developing publicly owned networks.

Orangeburg County is pressing on, however, in order to connect...

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Posted January 2, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

Most residents and businesses in Oconee County, South Carolina, used dial-up connections when county officials applied for stimulus funding in 2010; there were still people in the county with no Internet access at all. A few had DSL connections, but even county facilities struggled with antiquated infrastructure. After an AT&T attack upended their plan to offer retail services, they pressed on and improved connectivity in the rural community. Powerful incumbent forces and a bad state law, however, eventually led this community to choose privatization.

Ripe For Stimulus

We spoke with Kim Wilbanks, who served as Project Manager for Oconee FOCUS, the 240-mile fiber optic publicly owned network. She worked with a small team of people that applied for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to obtain funds for the project. Wilbanks and former FOCUS Director Mike Powell were instrumental in establishing the infrastructure. The Wilbanks family used dial-up Internet access until 2010 when AT&T finally installed DSL on her street on the edge of town in the mostly rural county.

The mountains and hills across the county’s 674 square miles create a terrain that is speckled with man-made lakes. Fishing, water skiing, and sailing are popular and the lakes and waterfalls contribute to the region’s hydroelectric energy. Approximately 75,000 people live in Oconee County scattered within many of the small rural communities. The largest city’s population is only about 8,000.

Oconee County’s rural environment with a sparse population, sluggish economic growth, and high number of unserved and underserved premises, was the type of region where stimulus funds helped jump start projects. When the county received a grant in the second round of awards in the summer of 2010 for $9.6 million, officials at the county planned to connect community anchor institutions and municipal and county facilities first. They planned to later expand and bring businesses and residents better Internet access. The county matched the federal grant with $4.7 million to deploy the $14.3 million fiber optic infrastructure. After the RFP process, they were able to start construction in early 2011. By the end of 2013, they had finished construction; by 2014...

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Posted October 6, 2015 by Hannah Trostle

This past July the USDA announced over $85 million in funding for rural broadband projects across seven states. The projects, many awarded to rural cooperatives, aim to bridge the digital divide and expand economic opportunities. For those interested in federal funding opportunities, NTIA has just released this guide [pdf].

Rural areas are often passed over by big telcos because they are considered less profitable. Farming, however, is a high-tech industry, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes that Internet access is as necessary as electricity in rural areas:

"Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America's future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago. ...  Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America."

The USDA has awarded more than  $77 million in Community Connect Grants for rural broadband projects (since 2009). This July, the USDA loaned $74.8 million and awarded another $11 million in Community Connect Grants. Here is the current round-up of the USDA’s most recent loans and grants:

Alaska

Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative Inc. will connect Point Hope subscribers and prepare for an undersea fiber line with a $1.4 million grant.

Minnesota

Garden Valley Telephone, one of the largest coops in Minnesota, will continue to expand its FTTH service area with a $12.63 million loan. On average, the coop serves two households per square mile.

Consolidated Telephone, another coop, will perform upgrades and add a new fiber ring to allow for greater bandwidth with a $12.27 million...

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Posted December 1, 2014 by Rebecca Toews

This week in community broadband, more communities are adding broadband to the list of essential utilities, and many of them are turning to Chattanooga as a model “gig city.”

As Times Free Press’s Dave Flessner reports, the great thing about Chattanooga's approach is that it’s not just about Internet. In fact, the broadband boom is really an unintended benefit of the city’s cutting edge smart grid, which keeps the city’s lights on and powers the economy as well. 

"What we're going to try to do is bring some of the brilliant people from Warner Bros., Fox, Disney and IBM down here to Chattanooga to help them get their heads wrapped around this notion that you've got to stop worrying about scarcity," [Annenberg Innovation Lab director Jonathan] Taplan said.

Last year, T-Bone Burnett, a Grammy Award winner, performed "The Wild Side of Life" from a Los Angeles studio with Chuck Mead, a founder of the band BR549 who was on stage in Chattanooga.

"They sang a song together over 2,000 miles apart," Taplin said. "That's the power of gigabit Internet. I think we're just beginning to think of the possibilities of what this thing can do."

And Android Authority’s William Neilson Jr. explores the desire for faster connections and more choices.

“Isn’t it amazing how much faster broadband speeds are in parts of the country where there are a number of broadband options available to residents? How many times am I going to write an article detailing a broadband provider telling a city that they don’t need “fast” speeds even though the city is universally angry at their lack of broadband options?”

Of course, we see the product of how increased competition brings better service even more clearly in communities that have municipal networks, not just in Google's Kansas City network. It is an outcome that all communities can achieve if they regain the authority to do so. 

In the beginning, Lafayette, Louisiana created its own utility system. And it was good. Steve Stackhouse Kaelble goes back to the very beginning of...

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Posted February 1, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

This March 21-22, the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA) will be hosting the "Networking Communities for the New South" conference. The conference will be held at the Omni Charlotte Hotel.

We are excited to see Susan Crawford as the keynote speaker. From the conference page:

She will provide a broadband policy reality check, and answer – among other questions –whether current so-called “level playing field”, “free-market” policies are leaving us with a second class network that only the rich can afford.

(For a preview, listen to Susan in a recent Broadband Bits Podcast. She talked about her recent book and discussed the need for long term U.S. telecom policy change.)

Check out the schedule and list of other speakers [PDF] and start planning your itinerary. You can also register online.

Some of the issues discussed will be:

  • Public and private resources
  • How to offer services to schools and other government institutions as a way to save costs and yet build a platform for high bandwidth use
  • Info on the Research Triangle Park's North Carolina Next Generation Network, (NCNGN - sounds like NC Engine)
  • The National Public Safety FirstNET and municipal network
  • How to build, operate, and integrate social media into, local Public, Education and Government (PEG) channels, and into your organization's lobbying campaigns to obtain optimal reach

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