Gene Zaleski May 6, 2020 | The Times and Democrat
Tri-County Electric Cooperative says it is investing about $50 million over the next three years to build a fiber optic network in its service area.
The St. Matthews-based utility will be working with engineering firm Conexon to construct about 1,700 miles of fiber network that will serve about 15,000 homes and businesses in six counties, including Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.
The fiber-to-the-home network build-out will deliver broadband Internet speeds and capabilities to the service area.
The service will transmit data up to 1 gigabit per second, which is fast enough to download a full, high-definition movie in just a few minutes.
Fiber construction is expected to begin in the middle of this year with the first members connected by fall of 2020. The fiber optic network will overlay the cooperative’s current electrical system.
Tri-County Electric’s Board of Trustees and Management selected Conexon for the project. Conexon will provide engineering, design, construction management, phone service and customer support for the project.
“Conexon had the experience and expertise we were looking for,” Tri-County Electric Cooperative CEO Chad Lowder said in a press release. “They understand rural territories, the co-op’s commitment to service and the unique challenges we face.”
Conexon’s subsidiary, Conexon Connect, will also serve as Tri-County Electric’s phone provider of record. The Tri-County fiber network will also bolster the co-op’s electrical infrastructure with smart grid capabilities that will improve power outage response times, load balancing and electricity delivery. Lowder said the goal is to structure the cost of the project to be, “as non-dependent on rates as possible.” He said the cooperative is exploring various avenues for funding, including the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, electric cooperative programs and Congressman James Clyburn’s office.
In addition to Orangeburg and Calhoun counties, the project will include portions of Richland, Lexington, Kershaw and Sumter counties. The utility currently has 18,076 meters and over 2,700 miles of lines over its service area.
Lowder said the cooperative’s sole mission since its origins in 1940 was to bring electricity to the farms and communities that got left behind by the big power companies of the day.
“Now flash forward to 2020 and these same communities have been neglected and forgotten by the large communication providers,” Lowder said. “Our core mission is not just to provide reliable electric service, but to be a stimulus to our local communities. In today’s technological world, fast and reliable internet service is critical for all communities, not just large cities.”