Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative has partnered with WCFIBER, an Abbeville-headquartered subsidiary of West Carolina Telephone Cooperative, to supply high-speed internet across its service territory in Anderson, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties.
“This co-op [WCFIBER] is already a well established provider of broadband,” said Blue Ridge President and CEO Jim Lovinggood. “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.”
This announcement follows a two-year study that focused on the feasibility of taking broadband to Blue Ridge’s membership and found there was a need for high-speed internet across large portions of the cooperative’s 1,800-square-mile service area.
While the co-op is seeking to develop broadband coverage, its management and board have stipulated entering the broadband business would not 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. “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.”
By employing the pilot program, Blue Ridge expects it may eventually reach all unserved and underserved communities with high-speed internet service.
The cooperative’s system has more than 7,000 miles of power lines, which were constructed over the last 80 years.