A $362 Million Initiative to Expand Broadband Availability to Unserved South Carolina Homes and Small Businesses
Charter has announced plans to deliver gigabit high-speed broadband to approximately 98,600 unserved South Carolina homes and small businesses, as estimated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). As part of this effort, more than $362 million will be invested in South Carolina, which includes an expected private investment of at least $250 million by Charter and more than $112 million in support won by Charter in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity (RDOF) auction. You can view a map of the South Carolina expansion here. The effort is part of the company’s recently announced expected investment of approximately $5 billion — offset by $1.2 billion in RDOF support — to expand Charter's network to what the FCC estimates to be more than 1 million homes and small businesses in lower-density, mostly rural communities across 24 states that do not have access to broadband service of at least 25/3 Mbps.
The new initiative is in addition to Charter’s existing network expansion plans and builds upon the company’s long track record of expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved locations.
“From virtual school to telehealth and everything in between, this past year has proven broadband access is a necessary part of our day-to-day lives,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “Charter’s investment in our state will create opportunity for the South Carolinians they serve and will give our rural communities tools to help foster unprecedented growth and prosperity.”
“Charter’s investment in South Carolina’s broadband infrastructure is an investment in South Carolina families, schools and small businesses,” said South Carolina House Speaker James H. “Jay” Lucas. “Their buildout plan will move our state closer to finally closing the digital divide, making it easier for thousands of South Carolinians, especially those who live in rural parts of the state, to access the tools they need to thrive.”
State Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman stated, “The pandemic laid bare the urgent importance of ensuring all South Carolinians have access to the tools and opportunities supported by broadband internet. This investment from Charter will help our state meet this challenge and bring high-speed connectivity to thousands of previously unserved residents — supporting their educational and economic success.”
Through this RDOF-supported project alone, Charter is projected to connect 91% of South Carolina’s RDOF-awarded locations with quality, high-speed broadband. Charter’s RDOF award will result in buildouts in 40 of South Carolina’s 46 counties, including expansion into nine counties not currently served by Charter, helping to close the gap for many more South Carolinians. Charter’s expansion will be a tremendous complement to the state’s CARES Act-funded Broadband Infrastructure Program expansion, which extended high-speed broadband access to nearly 20,000 structures.
The homes and businesses to which Charter has committed to build include some of the most impoverished counties in the state, with 40% of RDOF support won by Charter to be invested in counties designated some of the most economically challenged by the South Carolina Department of Revenue. Over the next several years, Charter will extend its network to reach an FCC-estimated additional more than 33,000 homes and small businesses across 13 counties that have seen the highest unemployment rates in the state.
The long-term impact of Charter’s expansion will be transformational, for example:
- Allendale: Today, more than two-thirds (69%) of Allendale County’s nearly 9,000 residents cannot access high-speed broadband. As a result of Charter’s investment in South Carolina, an additional FCC-estimated 2,318 Allendale County homes and small businesses will have access to gigabit connections from Spectrum Internet®.
- Bamberg: Today, 60% of Bamberg County’s more than 14,000 residents cannot access high-speed broadband. As a result of Charter’s investment in South Carolina, an additional FCC-estimated 2,853 Bamberg County homes and small businesses will have access to gigabit connections from Spectrum Internet.
- Barnwell: About half (47%) of Barnwell County’s nearly 21,000 residents cannot access high speed broadband today. As a result of Charter’s investment in South Carolina, an additional FCC-estimated 3,592 Barnwell County homes and small businesses will have access to gigabit connections from Spectrum Internet.
- Hampton: Today, about half (8,823) of Hampton County’s more than 19,000 residents cannot access high-speed broadband. As a result of Charter’s investment in South Carolina, an additional FCC-estimated 3,129 Hampton County homes and small businesses will have access to gigabit connections from Spectrum Internet.
Gigabit Broadband with No Data Caps or Modem Fees
The network Charter will build in these mostly rural areas will offer 1 Gbps high-speed broadband access to all newly served customer locations, with starting speeds of 200 Mbps, enabling consumers to engage in remote learning, work, telemedicine and other applications that require high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity. These newly served customer locations also will benefit from Charter’s high-value Spectrum pricing and packaging structure, including its Spectrum Mobile™, Spectrum TV® and Voice offerings. Charter will continue to apply its customer-friendly policies in newly served regions, including no data caps, modem fees or annual contracts, combined with high-quality service provided by U.S.-based, insourced employees.
Preparation for the RDOF Phase I broadband buildout has already begun and will include Charter expanding its existing construction organization in order to focus on deployment of this new fiber-optic network. Charter expects to hire more than 2,000 employees and contractors nationwide to support the RDOF and future rural buildout initiatives, including local crews in state for network construction. Charter currently employs more than 3,000 people in South Carolina, with employees already earning at least two times the federal minimum wage with a commitment to raising it to $20 an hour next year.
The FCC estimates Charter's major infrastructure investment will ultimately reach more than 1 million households and small businesses and will be completed on a rolling basis, with all customer locations expected to be connected within the six-year compliance window. Charter has established an online resource at SpectrumRuralExpansion.com, where consumers can learn more about the RDOF buildout. In the months ahead, the site will include the ability to determine whether specific residential or business locations will be part of the RDOF buildout. And in the future, the site also will allow prospective customers to request email or text message updates from Spectrum as the buildout progresses and more specific information becomes available. As buildouts near completion, Charter will contact customers to provide details about the Spectrum services available and activation time frames.
Timely Execution Depends on Prompt Permitting and Access to Utility Poles
The timely execution and potential reach of the buildout are dependent on several external factors, including the utility pole permitting and “make-ready” processes. With fewer homes and businesses in these areas, broadband providers need to access multiple poles for every new home served, as opposed to multiple homes per pole in higher-density settings. As a result, pole applications, pole replacement rules and their affiliated issue resolution processes are all factors that can have a significant impact on the length of time it takes to complete projects in these rural areas.
Rutledge added, “The stronger collaboration we have among broadband providers, state regulators, pole owners and utility companies, the faster we can connect these communities with high-speed internet services. We look forward to working with local municipalities, electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities to ensure that permits are obtained in a timely, fair and cost-effective fashion.”