PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA) — Pickens County continues to make great strides with its broadband expansion project for rural communities. County leaders said new funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will streamline and expedite the process.

“Our goal is to get broadband throughout the county. Fast forward to when the funding came in from ARPA, one of the key points that we can do with the ARPA funding was broadband. So rather than taking a long period of time to get this broadband going, we allocated $1.6 million, and now through the partnership with the Upcountry fiber, this is happening,” said Pickens County Council Vice-Chairman Roy Costner III.

“We already reached over 30 percent of the population, they now have access, where they didn’t before, and that only took about a month,” Costner continued. “We’re hoping by this time next year, the entire county will have access to broadband.”

The goal is to give broadband access to those in rural communities or underserved areas.

“So when the pandemic first kicked in, we wanted to, how do we help our at risk population. How do we help those kids who are now having to do all these Zoom things, and one of the first things that we said was can we create a broadband opportunity within the county, because that was where we was having the biggest problem,” Costner said.

Originally the county allocated dollars out of its general funds for the broadband project.

“It could’ve taken years,” Costner said.

Some teachers and parents are happy this will help many of their children, who were struggling during the pandemic.

“There was a lot of times that we could not reach children,” said Tori Gibson, a teacher at Liberty Elementary School.

“Trying to communicate with the students, was very very hard. We tried to keep them engaged but it was incredibly difficult, and a lot of the students didn’t have the internet,” Gibson said. “And a lot of students that had the means of getting the internet, couldn’t because of the broadband in the district.”

Costner said, now, funding will help with that access.

“There are basically eight quadrants across the county that we’ve identified, and they’ve mapped out the structure of how that was going to work,” Costner said. “We wanted to have the biggest impact first, now we’re going to be able to move on to those other quadrants and complete the whole county, in as quickly of a process as we can.”

“I really hope that happens, and I really hope that students that don’t have internet can actually get it now,” Gibson said.

The county believes this will help free up dollars for other projects too.

“It actually helps us in multiple ways. Now the $1.6 million that we were taking out of the general fund to be able to pay for, the ARPA funding can replace that and we can use it for something else,” Costner explained. “So, we can use it more for the water and sewer project that we’re working on. We can use it for our litter program. ARPA is designed to help communities impacted by COVID.”

Some agree this will now help their students and families.

“And students are able to do more stuff at home now. So, if they are quarantined, now they will be able to get the internet they need in order to do the assignments, so they’re not falling behind,” Gibson said.

“Having access is not only a benefit to the school district and us as teachers and students, but also too, people looking to come into our county have the opportunity to move anywhere in the county now,” said Meghan Greer, parent and teacher in the School District of Pickens County.

“It’s going to open up opportunity for people who are doing online school, whether they’re students or even adults who want to continue their education online or even just coming here and wanting to watch a football game,” Greer said. “I think it’ll be a bigger selling point for businesses and for residents who want to move into Pickens County.”

Costner said, so far, people living in the Liberty, Norris, and Central areas have already benefited from this project. Costner also said they approved spending ARPA funding at their last meeting.

The county has been given $24.6 million in ARPA funds.