The digital internet deserts in Aiken and surrounding counties will soon be delivered a broadband oasis – a hopeful signal to all rural South Carolina that help is on the way.
Aiken Electric Cooperative has announced it is partnering with CarolinaConnect, a Lexington fiber-optic internet service provider, to deliver affordable high-speed internet across its territory.
“The lack of internet service throughout rural South Carolina, particularly the House District I serve, is the number one issue (complaint) for most folks,” said Bill Taylor, member of the South Carolina House of Representatives District 86. “Without a reliable, high-speed internet connection, families and businesses are left behind. This announcement is a life preserver for those wanting to connect to communicate, educate, do business, receive telehealth services and gain from all the advantages offered by high-speed internet, including a Wi-Fi connection for their cell phones that also lack adequate service.”
Rural digital deserts are not exclusive to South Carolina. The Pew Research Center reports that about 73% of American adults have a home broadband connection. However, only 63% of rural Americans have broadband internet access.
The lack of broadband service to rural areas has been understandable because of the expense of installing fiber optics in sparsely populated areas, as opposed to installing these services in more urban areas with a much larger customer base.
Grant monies fund the first phase of this effort to expand access to a modern fiber-to-the-home network. Due to the grant requirements, service will first be available to Aiken Co-Op members in the Wagener-Perry-Salley area as early as this summer. After completing this first phase, service will become available to unserved and underserved members on a substation-by-substation basis over several years. A more detailed schedule of the projected network build-out is in development.
"Just as we did more than 80 years ago in bringing electricity to our rural communities, today we are bringing a much-needed service to our members," said Gary Stooksbury, CEO of Aiken Electric.
"We believe providing exceptional broadband access is consistent with our mission of empowering our local communities and enhancing our members' quality of life. Access to high-speed broadband will enable members’ greater access to education, technology, conferencing, and many other opportunities given the challenges brought about by COVID-19."
The Aiken Coop is a member-owned utility that serves nearly 50,000 customers in a nine-county area. For more information about Aiken Electric Coop's and CarolinaConnect's internet offerings, or to receive alerts when service is available in your area, visit https://www.carolinaconnect.com and join the list.