McCOLL — Work has begun on a $2.2 million broadband expansion in the county.
A group, which included Sen. Gerald Malloy, Rep. Pat Henegan, County Administrator Ron Munnerlyn, County Council Chairman Jason Steen, District 6 County Councilman Verd Odom, Sandhill Telephone Cooperative CEO Lee Chambers, South Carolina Office of Regulatory (ORS) Staff Executive Director Nanette Edwards, ORS Broadband Project Administrator Chris Rozycki, Mark Stanley of Sandhill, listened as engineer Larry Garrick of McCall-Thomas Engineering Company talked at the site in McColl about the work being done.
Edwards said ORS approved the funding of 78 applications statewide.
This infrastructure expansion will make high-speed broadband available to homes, businesses, schools, health care facilities, and other institutions in unserved areas across South Carolina.
Edwards said $50 million of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding was allocated to ORS for administering the South Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Program to assist COVID-19 impacted individuals, families, and communities.
Of that total, $20 million was budgeted for the ongoing Online Learning Initiative, and $29.7 million was allocated to support broadband infrastructure expansion.
Sandhill Telephone Cooperative has five funded projects in Marlboro County with a total project cost of $2,249,400. Fifty percent of the project cost or $1,124,700 is CARES Act funded as authorized by the SC General Assembly.
Once the five projects are completed, 3,428 additional households, 243 businesses, 12 health care facilities, 108 community anchor institutions, and eight educational institutions will have broadband access.
ORS came to Marlboro County to do site visits. Edwards spoke highly of the application submitted by the county and Sandhill. She noted the number of letters of support and said the application scored high with a 75.
“You did well,” she said.
In McColl, the project will have 14 miles of fiber optic cable. Crews are working seven days a week to complete the work by the federally mandated deadline. They are boring under the railroad tracks on Highway 15-401 to extend broadband to the North Carolina line. This will pick up over 300 residents and five anchor institutions.
The other locations are in Clio, Blenheim, on Hwy 9 from Bennettsville to Clio, and from West Bennettsville to the Pee Dee River.
Projects must be completed no later than December 18 of this year.
Edwards said the fiber to the premises will provide minimum download and upload speeds of 250 megabytes per second.
Malloy said Edwards and Rozycki were “rockstars.”
“They put everything together from the beginning when they first started having the meetings,” he said.
Malloy noted it was a team effort of the state, county, and Sandhill.
He was on accelerateSC, which served as the coordinated COVID-19 advisory team to consider and recommend economic revitalization plans for the state.
Malloy was on the Re-Open South Carolina Select Committee, which, studied the CARES Act appropriation. He was responsible for the broadband section.
The senator made a presentation on broadband to the Senate Finance Committee to advise them on how much of the funding to allocate.
Malloy noted county officials did a good job of putting things together and had great letters of support.
He also gave credit to Sandhill, local government, and those who are putting in the infrastructure.
Improved broadband access will help those working from home, improve distance learning, and telemedicine.
Malloy noted all of those things are dependent on good internet access.
County Council Chairman Jason Steen said improved internet has been a key strategic initiative for Marlboro County Council.
“Our staff had a plan in place before the COVID crisis and was able to quickly adapt it to the SC Cares Act requirements along with Sandhill Cooperative,” he said. “To watch dirt being turned and cable being run is really exciting.”
County Councilman Verd Odom added it’s always a great day when you can see the results of hard work and planning.
“As councilman for McColl, I know how important the new, faster internet will be for our town,” he said. “Not only have I worked for the McColl area, but it’s been a real team effort with the entire council, staff, and Sandhill to make this a reality.”
Chambers said Sandhill will be the telecommunication provider in Marlboro delivering the high-speed internet over fiber optics.
Access would probably be available around the beginning of 2021 when people can start signing up.
“The grant is taking what would have been three years worth of work for us and condensing it down to a year,” Chambers said. “We are getting that far ahead of where we would have been.”