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Rural county serves as model for national broadband expansion

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(Photo/File)About 4,500 Cherokee County homes and small businesses lacked access to internet service last year, but change is in the air — or rather, the ground.

The county and Charter Communications have launched a two-year public-private partnership in which the Upstate county will model Charter’s plans for its $5 billion broadband expansion to an estimated 1 million homes and businesses across the country.

The project will draw on the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“Broadband is a vital resource for work, learning and personal connection,” Jessica Geremia, Spectrum’s area vice president of field operations, said in a news release. “Leveraging RDOF resources, we’re building a high-speed, high-capacity network that will bring gigabit internet to thousands of homes and small businesses in Cherokee County — an investment that will ensure families and businesses can participate fully in the digital world, now and well into the future.”

The Cherokee project, funded with more than $3 million, began Jan. 1 and is expected to connect 3,000 homes and small businesses to high-speed internet. 

“The future prosperity of South Carolina depends on a proactive approach to providing reliable broadband access to our rural communities,” S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said in the release. “Broadband allows our children to stay up to date on their schoolwork, gives businesses the ability to locate in rural communities, and improves our overall quality of life — all of which will bring prosperity to our state. I applaud Charter Communications and Cherokee County for aggressively tackling the underserved areas of their county.”

To reach unserved areas beyond the planned Rural Digital Opportunity Fund expansion, Cherokee County has contracted with Charter to deploy approximately 173 additional miles of network infrastructure, which will provide service to approximately 1,466 additional homes and small businesses.

Cherokee County will invest $3 million to extend service to these additional unserved areas, with Charter privately funding the remainder. The Cherokee County investment includes contributions from Cherokee County ($1.75 million), the Cherokee County School District ($1 million) and the Spartanburg Regional Foundation ($250,000).

Expanding broadband met with overwhelming community support in Cherokee County 2037: A Clear Vision, the county’s long-range plan that was unveiled last year, according to the release.

“Cherokee County residents told us loud and clear that making high-speed internet available countywide was a priority. We heard them,” Cherokee County Administrator Steve Bratton said in the release. “New businesses looking to come to an area check to make sure basic infrastructure — including broadband — is in place. Not only will this partnership serve thousands of Cherokee County residents, it will make the county more attractive for economic development.”

Reach Molly Hulsey at 864-720-1223.

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