The South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), in conjunction with several public and private entities, this week completed a pilot project that provides residential broadband to families with K-12 students and establishes public WiFi hubs in Allendale County. The public-private South Carolina project, known as the Allendale Broadband Pilot Porject, used fixed wireless technology to quickly connect families with K-12 students that previously did not have broadband available to them.
The goal of the pilot project, which began in November 2020, was to see how quickly wireless Internet infrastructure could be deployed using state assets.
“Providing wireless internet service where there was no access before using existing community assets such as water towers or nearby [educational television network] towers provides a bridge to broadband,” ORS’s Jim Stritzinger said in a press release. “We were able to go into rural Allendale County and in 61 days we had 1,000 homes with internet access.”
The project received $393,104 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Act provided funding to all 50 states and each state had considerable flexibility in how to use the funding. South Carolina devoted $50 million of the funding for broadband initiatives related to COVID-19.
Also partnering in the project were corporate partners Siklu, Linksys and Ookla; SCETV, South Carolina’s statewide public broadcast network; the South Carolina Department of Education; the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie; Allendale County School District; Allendale Hampton Jasper Regional Library; the town of Allendale; SouthernCarolina Alliance and Revolution D.
WiFi hubs donated by Siklu and Linksys were placed at the Allendale Elementary School, USC Salkehatchie and the Allendale Hampton Jasper Regional Library. Linksys outdoor access points were at each location, with direct fiber connections at the elementary school and the college. The library hub was connected to the university’s tower using 60 GHz mmWave 5G Siklu Etherhaul gear.
Revolution D and the Palmetto Rural Telephone Cooperative established a link between the main fiber network and SCETV towers at the college and elementary school. Dominion Energy South Carolina provided power to the sites. All engineering design and construction activities were done by local partners.
In addition, Revolution D and SCETV designed and deployed a private LTE fixed wireless network using citizens broadband radio service (CBRS) spectrum.
The network can provide Internet access to 1,000 eligible homes in the Allendale community. In February, routers were distributed to 20 families with students in the school district. The remaining 300 purchased devices will be distributed at no cost to recipients.
Initial tests of the residential network measured speeds of 78 Mbps download and 6 Mbps uploads, with speeds varying according to geography.
An event about the Allendale Broadband Pilot Program will be livestreamed on YouTube at 1 p.m. ET today.
Public/private partnerships are an increasingly potent structure for financing and building networks, especially in rural areas. Trust is the key to these projects, according to James Baller, a partner with Keller & Heckman, a law firm that specializes in telecom.
Joan Engebretson contributed to this report.