CHEROKEE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Cherokee County is making an effort to expand its broadband to reach more rural, underserved areas.

Cherokee County and Charter Communications announced a public-private partnership on Thursday that will expand high-speed internet access across the county over the next two years. The plan will serve as a model for expanding rural broadband access across the United States.

Leaders said the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that access to broadband is critical for telehealth, working from home, completing school assignments, and economic development.

“Broadband now is essential for education, for health, for entertainment, for everything under the sun,” said South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.

According to officials, nearly 4,500 locations in the county, including residences and small businesses, lack internet service. The expansion was created in an effort to change that.

“What is being done here in Cherokee County is being done exactly the right way of a public-private partnership using federal funds, grants, as well as the private entities of putting money in as well,” said Gov. McMaster.

Charter Communications was awarded more than $3 million in federal RDOF (Rural Development Opportunity Fund) Phase I dollars to assist in connecting an estimated 3,000 homes and small businesses in Cherokee County to quality, high-speed internet service. The money must be used to bring high-speed internet to rural areas that are completely unserved, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

To reach those areas beyond the planned RDOF expansion, Cherokee County has partnered 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 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 was met with overwhelming community support in “Cherokee County 2037: A Clear Vision,” the county’s long-range plan that was unveiled last year.

“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. “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.”

For some of the area’s residents, the completion of the project will make access to everyday tasks easier to accomplish.

“I live in a rural area of Cherokee County that does not have WiFi broadband,” said Kristine Schaeffer, Cherokee County resident. “It’s necessary to have broadband in today’s world. You cannot do online banking, you cannot apply for jobs, you cannot look for healthcare providers, you can not pay your bills if you do not have WiFi.”

According to Governor Henry McMaster, it is one of South Carolina’s goals to ensure that all areas have full access to broadband.

“We are going to have broadband service, fast internet service for everyone throughout our state. That’s our goal,” explained Gov. McMaster.

State leaders said they are working to fulfill that as soon as possible.

“We want it to be wall to wall, border to border, just as quickly as we can and we are determined to do that,” said Gov. McMaster.  

The broadband expansion project is expected to begin Jan. 1, 2022.