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Pickens Co. passes ordinance to better broadband in underserved areas

By February 4, 2021 February 10th, 2021 No Comments

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PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA)– Approximately $1.6 million will be used to fix some major broadband issues in Pickens County. Many families said the lack of connectivity is a big problem in several areas.

On Monday, the Pickens County Council passed an ordinance to better broadband through an initiative.

“Actually, it’s been very hard,” Jane Wright said. “I can’t even explain how hard it’s been, but it’s been very very hard,” she said.

In an age where a bedroom is the new classroom, and most living rooms are now offices, some like Wright have had problems getting connected.

“I live at the edge of town and I’m ineligible to receive services from Spectrum or from regular AT&T service because the bandwidth where I live at is not strong enough or high enough for me to even have a plan,” Wright said.

Pickens County Administrator Ken Roper said, they noticed the issues last Spring when people were in lockdown during the pandemic.

“When everything was locking down and people were having to talk about doing school from home, or work from home, or telemedicine, and all of those sorts of things, and we started recognizing that you know, we don’t have the internet connectivity in this county that lets us do that sort of thing,” Roper said.

Now, an agreement with Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative Inc., will help with the problem.

“We were able to incentivize the co-op, pay the co-op to connect our buildings and to take those broadband lines through those underserved communities. We’re very excited about this,” Roper said.

Eight different areas in Pickens County have been identified as underserved.

“Those eight areas have relatively high concentration of people, and relatively low access to internet. So they’ve got 20-year-old technology like dial-up internet,” Roper said. “The worst place for that is kind of Highway 93, passed Liberty, towards Norris and the Cateechee community. That area has a lot of people in it, but not a lot of access to broadband,” Roper said.

Some county facilities will help boast the entire community.

“In August, we came up with an idea. That idea was to see if we could find a community partner, someone in the broadband industry, to connect our facilities, the county facilities like the fire departments, the libraries, the recycling centers, the airport. And by connecting those facilities, could we get broadband in those communities that don’t have it,” Roper said.

Roper said the county already has a budget for the broadband initiative.

“The good news there is that Pickens County has a capital reserve, a fund balance is a better way to put it. We have money in the bank. We’ve saved for a rainy day because we’ve been very frugal through the years. So what we’re basically telling Blue Ridge Co-op is, that if you will run the lines in the areas that we know are needing the service the most, that we will reimburse you for each of these eight blocks. Each of these eight areas that are underserved, we will reimburse you $200,000 per area, to run the lines to our facilities,” Roper said.

Now the funding will be a band-aid for many.

“It will be very beneficial, because like I said, a lot of people in the area that I live in, which is on the edge of town, people have no service,” Wright said.

Roper said by the end of the year, Blue Ridge Co-Op plans to have broadband lines up for areas like Liberty and Norris. Once completed, the Sunset community, Dacusville, and Pumpkintown areas will be next in the following months.