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South Carolina Co-Op Plans $50M Broadband Expansion

Tri-County Electric Cooperative is planning to connect customers to its broadband services in a few months, noting the importance of home Internet access due to remote learning.

(TNS) — Tri-County Electric Cooperative plans to have the first customers connected to its broadband services this year.

CEO Chad Lowder gave Calhoun County Council an update on the member-owned co-op’s $50 million effort to bring broadband services to Tri-County customers.

“What I can tell you is Tri-County has begun the construction phase of a fiber-to-home project for our coverage area. The goal is a three-year project to be able to provide fiber service to all the membership of Tri-County Electric at this time,” Lowder said.

“It starts in three phases. Right now the first phase has begun, and so as we build each phase out, we’ll notify the members when we get to that area and are able to bring fiber to them and provide that service at that time,” Lowder said.

Lowder said the co-op hopes to begin connecting customers in November. The co-op’s subsidiary TriCo Link will be responsible for the project.

Customers will receive direct fiber optics to their home, yielding speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. The pricing is expected to be comparable or below other broadband service prices.

Lowder compared the project to the implementation of electric systems in the 1940s.

“This is building infrastructure. It’s not putting wireless antennas up, this is physical wire being hung on poles,” Lowder said.

Lowder said the co-op is aware of the urgency of the project, noting that the importance of home Internet access has increased due to remote learning.

“It’s tough right now. I know a lot of schools, a lot of kids, a lot of parents are in dire need of good, reliable, true high-speed Internet service, and they need it now. The problem is we can’t get it to them now. It’s got to be a phased-in approach,” Lowder said.

“But, I will tell you, it’s an aggressive project. Three years for this amount of infrastructure is a feat in itself, but our board is committed to that,” Lowder said.

Lowder said there has been conversation about extending the services to homes that aren’t served by Tri-County, but those plans won’t develop until the initial project is complete.

“If you’re a member of the co-op, just understand that we’re going to get to you. We’re going to get to all our membership, and a three-year timeframe is our goal. Look at our webpage and our Living magazine to get updates,” Lowder said.

Also during Calhoun County Council’s meeting:

  • County Administrator John McLauchlin informed council that the county is looking to construct a recreational facility on property owned by the Calhoun County School District. The property is located on Park Street.
  • McLauchlin said the county is in communication with the school district about acquiring the property.
  • Council approved a motion allowing the John Ford High School Association to place a historical marker at the John Ford Center.
  • Council approved third reading following a public hearing of an ordinance adding property to the joint county industrial park between Calhoun and Lexington counties.
  • Council approved second reading of an ordinance increasing the water and wastewater fees for the Calhoun County Municipal Water and Wastewater Systems.
  • Council approved second reading of an ordinance providing for the abatement of nuisances, for enforcement and to set criminal penalties for failure to comply after notice.
  • Council approved a motion to reschedule all county meetings through fiscal year 2020-2021. Council will meet once a month from September 2020 to July 2021. McLauchlin said that the decision was made due to COVID-19 and safety precautions.
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