Broadband survey to be forwarded to all members
Next August, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative will celebrate its 80th birthday. On the date Blue Ridge was chartered, fewer than three percent of South Carolina farms were receiving central-station electric power. To their credit, the cooperative’s founders were determined to extend this essential service throughout the Upstate’s rural areas. Today, more than 7,100 miles of line bring power to our 67,000 members.
We believe that rural residents, whenever feasible, should be recipients of services on par with those readily available to consumers who reside within municipalities. The cost of supplying electricity was, and still is, a much more capital-intensive service than that provided to more-populated areas. This cost of service has to be distributed among fewer consumers per mile of power line. Plus, the upkeep of the cooperative’s rural system requires a higher level of day-to-day maintenance and is much more susceptible to storm damage. Yet—despite the odds—Blue Ridge provides the best service in the Upstate in our opinion.
An indispensable service
Today, it seems apparent that a large majority of folks view broadband internet service to be indispensable in much the same way electricity was regarded in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. More and more co-ops across the nation are now investing in the delivery of high-speed internet to their members’ homes. Unsurprisingly, we’ve been fielding inquiries from a number of you about the possibility of Blue Ridge pursuing this business. As one member commented, “Viable internet access isn’t a luxury anymore; it’s a necessity.”
The cooperative conducted a recent limited survey of our members and received strong, positive feedback regarding this subject. Based on this feedback, Blue Ridge has decided to study the possibility of taking broadband to the rural areas where our members live. After all, the cooperative is a member-owned power supplier. Since we’re not profit-driven like investor-owned utilities, our number-one motivation is to create value and improve living standards for our members.
We recognize the challenge involved in pursuing such a project. Realistically, it’s estimated that we’d be looking at a three-to-five-year process to build out our entire service area with broadband facilities. Also to be taken into consideration would be the vast geographical footprint that makes up the Blue Ridge service territory. In addition to being primarily rural, more than half of that sprawling territory is classified as mountainous.
A first step
To be quite honest, at this point we have as many questions as we have answers. Our first step will be to collect information from our membership. That will take the form of a new survey that’s to be sent out this month to every location now receiving service from Blue Ridge. You can assist us by answering and returning the survey. The letter accompanying the questionnaire offers several ways for you to respond. Based on replies to that questionnaire, a decision will then be made about the cooperative’s next move.
Again, Blue Ridge is only getting started. We’re looking at potential business models and at the investment that would be needed to provide this service. Extending broadband into rural areas will be considered only if it can stand on its own. Our members would never be asked to subsidize or pay any costs associated with providing broadband. The process of studying this service will be thorough and will take some time. We hope you’ll respond to the survey with your thoughts, and you have our guarantee that we’ll continue to update you on our progress.