Anderson broadband project follows in footsteps of rural electrification.

PositionAnderson County, South Carolina

Anderson County is not one of the most broadband-deprived areas of the state. In Anderson County's municipal areas, internet customers are moving along at high (or at least, moderate) speed. Still, thousands of households and scores of businesses suffer the frustrations of slow internet service.

The majority of the county benefits from moderate broadband speeds with pockets close to the city of Anderson and Greenville County seeing even faster access. But in Honea Path, Pendleton, Williamston and rural locations farther afield, communities packed with more than 200 households per square mile lack any broadband access, according to 2021 maps from the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff's Broadband Office.

"When I think of broadband access for Anderson County, I always think of two Anderson Counties," said S.C. Sen. Mike Gambrell, adding that his own home and that of many of his constituents lack access. "Lots of folks in Columbia take for granted that every county and every city has got broadband."

Upcountry Fiber, a new partnership developed by the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative and West Carolina Rural Telephone Cooperative seeks to bridge this "the digital divide" through one of its inaugural forays into the Upstate: a $15 million, 2,800-mile broadband expansion to Anderson enclaves with little or no access to high-speed internet.

Close to 7,000 households and businesses will be put on the grid, according to the company.

The project dovetails with the provider's ongoing $175 million 2022 expansion project including Pendleton, Pierceville and Townville in Anderson County. Inroads were made in Pickens and Oconee County last year following the creation of Upcountry Fiber, when the Abbeville-based organization pledged to bring broadband to 1,800 square miles across the Upstate, including Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg counties, through a $150 million investment.

"We feel like at this particular time, we are positioned better than we ever have been to make a difference in the lives of our citizens," Mark Williamston, chief information officer for Anderson County, said at a Jan. 21 press conference about the project. "I think we can all recognize in today's fast-paced world, that broadband is no longer a luxury; it's a necessity. It has and will continue to become an essential utility, one no less important than water or power."

Anderson County officials reiterated the importance of broadband access for health care, education and overall...

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