$12M awarded to FTC for broadband internet expansion


FTC has been awarded more than $12 million in grant funding to help expand its fiber network to make broadband more accessible across four counties, the South Carolina Broadband Office recently announced.

The $12,040,800 was part of more than $130 million awarded through the SCBBO's American Rescue Plan Act, State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Priority 1.0 program. The program is a competitive grant program designed to assist internet service providers in expanding broadband to unserved households across the state.

FTC will utilize the money to deploy fiber to rural areas of Clarendon, Williamsburg, Lee and Sumter counties, including the Rembert area, which has basically no internet access. Fiber is the best delivery method for broadband service. Broadband, as described by the federal government, has download speeds at or above 25 megabits per second and an upload speed at or above 3 megabits per second. Through fiber, FTC can offer symmetrical speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which means its upload and download speeds are both 1 Gbps, with plans to deploy 2 Gbps service in fall 2023.

All projects included under the grants must be completed by Dec. 31, 2024.

"We are excited about how this funding will help improve the quality of life for so many people," said FTC Chief Executive Officer Jay Brown. "We were already working toward providing a fiber connection to our cooperative membership, and these funds will go a long way toward helping meet this goal. Many of these homes have access to limited bandwidth, but putting fiber in the funded areas will connect them to the outside world in ways they could only imagine before."

Broadband will provide the opportunity for residents to enhance their lives through distance learning, telemedicine, working from home, ecommerce opportunities, job searches and online applications, just to name a few.

"We are incredibly excited about this next chapter of broadband expansion in South Carolina," said Jim Stritzinger, director of the SCBBO. "Across the state, most have probably noticed the ISP road crews working diligently to provide high-speed internet access to our homes and businesses. This set of investments will provide a substantial boost to the work that is already underway."

The SCBBO release updated broadband maps on Feb. 3, 2023, that contain statistics for all 46 counties, as well as statewide overview data. The maps are now available for viewing at the official home of South Carolina broadband data, www.scdigitaldrive.org.

The SCBBO reports the number of unserved homes in the state has been reduced from 221,731 (8.9%, September 2021) to 137,004 (5.5%, September 2022), a reduction of 38.3% year over year. As a result of the ARPA money, in combination with other known federal and private investments, the statewide organization estimates the number of unserved homes should fall to approximately 74,000 when construction is completed in December 2024. This rapid household construction has also resulted in 153,140 residents and 14,360 public K-12 students being provided high-speed internet access in the same timeframe.

"Since the SCBBO does not directly build any fiber or connect a single home, the credit for this improvement needs to be directed to South Carolina's extraordinary ISPs," Stritzinger said.

With FTC already initiating fiber expansion across its five-county territory, which also includes lower Florence County, the added areas will be difficult to determine for those not involved in the project.

But those interested in tracking the progress of their area can do so by utilizing FTC's fiber look-up tool at ftc.net/services/internet#fiber-to-the-home. "We started our fiber to the premise (residential and business) buildout several years ago, so we were well on our way before this funding became available," Brown said. "Fiber is the future of broadband delivery. Our team will be working diligently to complete these construction projects as soon as possible, but we ask for everyone's patience during this highly intensive endeavor." For more information go to ors.sc.gov/broadband.