Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative will soon take its first steps toward supplying high-speed internet across its five-county service territory. Blue Ridge President and CEO Jim Lovinggood announced today that the cooperative has entered into a partnership with WCFiber to proceed.
WCFiber is a subsidiary of West Carolina Telephone Cooperative, headquartered in Abbeville.
“This co-op is already a well-established provider of broadband,” Lovinggood said in the news release. “Its employee team has a proven record of accomplishment in delivering high-speed internet service to rural areas, coupled with impeccable customer service. Both Blue Ridge and West Carolina operate in accordance with the cooperative business model. We believe our core values and service-oriented cultures are closely aligned and will make for a sound partnership,” Lovinggood said.
Blue Ridge has been involved in a two-year study that focused on the feasibility of taking broadband to its membership, which revealed that there was an obvious need for high-speed internet across large portions of the cooperative’s 1,800-square-mile service area, the release said.
From the outset, the co-op’s management and board have stipulated that entering the broadband business wouldn’t create costs that would be borne by the utility’s electric ratepayers.
“We definitely want to avoid any member subsidies being utilized to underwrite this project, and so our plan is to go down this path gradually,” Lovinggood said in the release. “We’ll start by initiating a pilot program that will extend service into a few smaller geographical areas. This will allow us to test and refine our process. Once the pilot program is finished and we’re satisfied with the results, we’ll then be in a position to expand into other locations.”
Blue Ridge officials expect that broadband will result in added improvements to the cooperative’s operation, with future applications of the technology bringing enhancements in electric-service dependability, power-cost efficiencies, and creative rate design, the release said.
Over time the cooperative expects to reach all unserved or underserved communities with quality high-speed internet service, the release said. The Blue Ridge system has more than 7,000 miles of power lines constructed during the last 80 years.
“The bottom line is that without access to federal or state grants, it could be a number of years before every corner of the Blue Ridge region would have broadband,” Lovinggood said in the release. “Be that as it may, we plan to keep chipping away until the time that everyone who wants high-speed internet will have it. Step by step, we’re going to get there. In addition, our broadband offering will feature fiber that connects directly to the home, thus providing the very best in internet service.”
The S.C. General Assembly approved legislation that would allow electricity suppliers like Blue Ridge to use existing power lines and easements to accommodate the extensions of the fiber cable. That provision would help to hold down expenses and would also facilitate the taking of fiber directly to every home or other account served by the cooperative, the release said.
The cooperative supplies electric service in Anderson, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties.