CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) — Sandhill Telephone Cooperative CEO Lee Chambers said 2020 was a busy year for them. The cooperative has been expanding broadband access in rural parts of Chesterfield, Kershaw and Marlboro Counties.

Chambers said, “Now, broadband is equally important to people and businesses as electricity and running water.”

He said when the COVID-19 pandemic closed down schools and people spent more time at home, some families needed broadband. “Last year was pretty hectic, We probably did about twice the amount of work we do connecting people.”

South Carolina has invested millions of dollars in closing the digital divide in the state. This year, state lawmakers set aside $10 million in the budget for broadband expansion statewide.

This is in addition to a $30 million investment for expansion programs and another $50 million from the CARES Act. According to the latest broadband mapping, we’re already seeing some improvements in rural areas.

Areas of Need in SC March 2020 & July 2021

Chambers said, “There were a lot of people in our territory that might not have ever had a need for broadband in their house. But because of schools and working from home now they had to connect more devices in their home.”

Sandhill Telephone received about $1 million in federal relief funds to complete projects in 2020. The Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) said the expansion projects helped nearly 3,500 homes and more than 200 businesses.

More federal relief funds from the American Rescue Plan could be used to expand broadband as well.

ORS estimates it would cost about $1.42 billion to connect all unserved South Carolina homes and businesses to fiber optic cable.

To view the state broadband map click or tap here.