ST. MATTHEWS – The Tri-County Electric Cooperative of St. Matthews was there in the 1940s to provide electricity to rural residents without access to electricity.
Today, the cooperative offers high-speed Internet service to its customers.
“As our world has changed, so have our members’ needs,” Tri-County CEO Chad Lowder said Monday.
Lowder spoke at a celebration marking the completion of a $50 million broadband expansion project that gave rural residents fast internet access.
“Data and technology affect every aspect of our lives, from kids doing well in school to having business conferences in your home,” Lowder said. “To live, work and succeed in today’s world, you need internet service, and you need reliable, fast internet service.”
People also read…
The utility began looking at the needs in the area about five years ago and decided that fast, reliable internet service was paramount.
Most people in the area before 2021 were getting slow internet access that might allow them to check their emails, but nothing else, he said.
The Tri-County project brings high-speed Internet service – up to 1 gigabyte per second – to every Tri-County member if they choose to go online.
Lowder said the service will allow individuals to stream television, host web conferences and do homework.
“Now they can do everything they need to do at home: telemedicine, conference calls, homework, just by clicking a button and it’s there. No one can receive it,” he said.
The project started in October 2019. The first client was able to connect in January 2021.
Lowder said Tri-County was fortunate to complete the job in two years. The cooperative initially estimated that it would take three years.
Tri-County’s subsidiary, TriCoLink, was responsible for the project.
The project has brought broadband to communities such as Elloree, Vance, Santee, Holly Hill, Eutawville, Cameron, Sandy Run, Creston, Lone Star and Fort Motte in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.
The project provides broadband access to over 6,000 customers in Orangeburg and over 6,000 in Calhoun and Lexington counties. The other 6,000 are served in Richland, Kershaw and Sumter counties.
About $10 million of the $50 million project was spent in Orangeburg County. About $10-12 million was spent in Calhoun County.
Non-members can also access the cooperative’s broadband if they are within the service area.
The project received tax breaks from Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.
“It’s very necessary for the community,” Calhoun County Council Chairman James Haigler said.
His church, Mount Carmel Baptist Church, will now be able to access broadband.
“It’s way out in the woods. We needed it for a long time because we do some church teaching,” he said.
Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright called it a big deal.
“I’m so thrilled. It’s not home yet, but it’s close. I’m not a Tri-County customer. I’m just happy for everyone. Hope they get the approval and funding to expand it to other areas,” he said.
Tri-County Electric Cooperative Board Chair Barbara Weston said she was blessed.
“I finally got TriCoLink and was able to connect to Zoom meetings and all that stuff from home. I was thrilled and so were my neighbors, even though some of them were about a mile away” , she said.
Weston encouraged others to sign up for TriCoLink.
“Join us and be part of something big,” Weston said. “We don’t have the money promised by the government yet because we did things too quickly. We were on the job and we were lucky to have all these things close at hand to be able to work.
Weston thanked utility leaders and staff for helping the project move forward.
TriCoLink Board Chairman George Wilson said broadband was crucial for students during COVID.
“Broadband has boosted the education system as well as the business system and it’s also where your grandkids might visit now that you have it,” Wilson said. “Before now, maybe not.”
“There’s a lot more to come,” he said.
Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews said it’s impressive that the co-op ended a year early.
“Broadband connectivity is probably just as important today as anything else in our daily lives. Without it, you are definitely at a disadvantage. I’m pretty excited that they decided to step in and fill a void that had been there for a very long time,” he said.
There is a one-time $100 fee to connect to the service. 100 megabyte residential service starts at $49.99 per month and 1 gigabyte service starts at $79.95 per month.
Business 100MB service starts at $79.95 per month, 500MB for $249.95 per month, and 1GB service starts at $449.95 per month.