BREC and WCFIBER partner to bring broadband
Pictured are Zach Hinton, Vice-President of Support Services (BREC), Jeff Wilson, CEO,WCFIBER, Jim Lovinggood, President and CEO (BREC) and Russell Clark, Director of Business Development for WCFIBER.
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 this week that the cooperative had entered into a partnership with WCFIBER to proceed with this project.
“WCFIBER is a subsidiary of West Carolina Telephone Cooperative, headquartered in Abbeville. This co-op is already a well-established provider of broadband. 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. That study ultimately revealed that there was an obvious need for high-speed internet across large portions of the cooperative’s 1,800-square-mile service area.
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 noted. “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,” he added.
Blue Ridge officials expect that broadband will result in added improvements to the cooperative’s operation. Future applications of the technology should bring enhancements in electric-service dependability, power-cost efficiencies, and creative rate design.
Over a period of time, by employing a conservative approach, the cooperative expects eventually to reach all unserved or underserved communities with quality high-speed internet service. The Blue Ridge system has more than 7,000 miles of power lines that have been constructed during the last 80 years. It will take significant time to cover this large area with reliable internet service. “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. 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,” Lovinggood stated.
Recently, the S.C. General Assembly approved legislation that signaled its support for improving access to broadband. One provision of that bill 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 each and every home or other account served by the cooperative. “We appreciate these actions taken by our state legislators, and we’re excited about the prospect of making this additional service available to our members,” Mr. Lovinggood concluded.