Broadband expansion project by Midlands co-op delivers high speed internet to more than 18k in rural areas


ST. MATTHEWS, SC (WIS) – More than 18,000 people in rural parts of the Midlands now have access to high-speed internet for the first time.

This is made possible through the locally-owned Tri-County Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary, TriCoLink.

The $50 million project delivers high-speed internet to all of the co-op’s customers with the installation of fiber-optic cable.

The area of ​​the broadband expansion includes large portions of Calhoun, Orangeburg, and Richland counties. It also includes parts of Lexington, Kershaw and Sumter counties.

Tri-County Electric Cooperative and TriCoLink CEO Chad Lowder said this is a “game-changer.”

“Our community needs fiber network, our community needs reliable internet services,” he said. “We have more businesses moving into our area that require it. You have more people now working from home as a new way of life. You have kids doing online schoolwork.”

The Tri-County Electric Cooperative has been serving Midlands residents for more than 80 years.

It was born out of the idea that many of these locations were deemed too rural to get electricity.

With the power issue resolved, the company put that same mission into practice with the hope of bridging the digital divide.

Lowder said a conversation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn was a turning point as the co-op began formulating the plan for this expansion.

The project began in 2020 and was initially estimated to take three years, but was completed ahead of schedule.

The first customers were hooked up to high-speed internet through this new fiber-optic cable system in January 2021, and the last customers were hooked up last month.

Even though many customers were able to access the internet prior to this broadband expansion, they are not getting gigabit speeds up to 40 times faster.

Bonnie Martin is one such customer.

“The old internet was slow, it sat there and I called it cooking, it was cooking, spinning, buffering,” she said. “And it just took forever to try to do something on it.”

According to Lowder, prior to this expansion customers may be able to receive emails, but webpages took a long time to load, and streaming was not possible.

Martin said the switch to fiber is like night and day for her family.

She said the new TriCoLink internet is “much faster.”

“You’re not sitting there waiting for it to pull up,” Martin said.

Lowder said this is cheaper for many residents as well.

“You can do everything with one fiber connection, which is almost unheard of in rural areas,” he said. “You know, typically a rural homeowner is going to pay $200 just to get satellite television. Now that is totally taken away and they can save money. So you’re getting a service and you’re saving on your monthly bills. So it’s a win-win every way you look at it.”

The co-op said the work does stop here. The company hopes to continue expanding broadband access to other rural areas that either lack internet or high-speed internet. Those places are Holly Hill and Eutawville.

Calhoun County Administrator John McLauchlin said the county plans to switch over to TriCoLink internet for all of its emergency services. He said the county currently has very limited broadband width with its 911 dispatch, which can lead to delays in service.

South Carolina’s Broadband Office estimates that roughly 181,000 homes statewide still do not have access to high-speed internet.

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