Project to expand SC rural broadband access may connect families this summer

Project to expand SC rural broadband access may connect families this summer
Tri-County Electric Cooperative will begin building broadband lines across their service areas in August, State Rep. Wendy Brawley said. (Source: WVIR)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The majority of connection right now almost has to happen online. But without adequate internet, some people could be left isolated.

As students switch to online learning and medical appointments become virtual, living in an area with no internet access doesn’t only make life more difficult, it can be dangerous.

And according to the Federal Communications Commission, about a quarter of all rural homes in South Carolina don’t have access to adequate internet.

Wednesday, State Rep. Wendy Brawley, D-Richland County, gave an update on her mission to expand broadband access to rural areas.

Brawley says that Tri-County Electric Cooperative will begin building broadband lines across their service areas in August. It’s an area that includes lower Richland County, Kershaw County, parts of Orangeburg, and Sumter -- to name a few.

Tri-County will do this by building on their previous power lines. The money from project will come partly from the FCC. But also, Brawley hopes other funds like the CARES Act will help pay for this roughly $50 million project.

She says she has seen bipartisan support for broadband expansion in rural areas.

“Listening to my colleagues today and listening to them again when we were last together when we were a group of 124 at the Capital -- this issue of broadband is high on the radar," Brawley said. “I think many of my colleagues who may not have considered this a priority do so now. And I think half of the concern is having the will to do it. And now I think the will to do it is actually there.”

Either way, Tri-County is planning to start Phase 1 this summer and could be providing broadband to customers in rural areas as soon as this year. They will also match any funding they receive, the CEO said, because extra funding will only speed up the process.

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