Clyburn, officials celebrate innovative Allendale broadband pilot project

Today, the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), in partnership with multiple public and private partners including South Carolina ETV (SCETV), is announcing the completion of a successful first-of-its-kind pilot project to provide residential broadband service for families with K-12 students in Allendale County and establish multiple public Wi-Fi hubs.

A press conference to discuss the project is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the University of Salkehatchie Commons (465 James Brandt Blvd. Allendale, S.C. 29810), and speakers include U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn and representatives from the SouthernCarolina Regional Alliance, Allendale County Council, the Allendale School District, USC-Salkehatchie, SCETV, and the Office of Regulatory Staff.

Beginning in November 2020, the ORS partnered with SCETV, the South Carolina Department of Education, the University of South Carolina (USC) Salkehatchie, Allendale County School District, the Allendale Hampton Jasper Regional Library, the Town of Allendale, the SouthernCarolina Alliance, and Revolution D, Inc., to launch the Allendale Broadband Pilot Project.

The goal of the project was to see how rapidly wireless internet infrastructure could be deployed by using existing state assets to a community that did not have internet access. The project was funded by the ORS using $393,104 of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act appropriations.

Public Wi-Fi hubs were established at three different locations— Allendale Elementary School, USC Salkehatchie, and the Allendale Hampton Jasper Regional Library – thanks to equipment donated from Siklu and Linksys. Each location was equipped with high-speed Linksys outdoor access points. Direct fiber connections drive the hubs at Allendale Elementary School and USC Salkehatchie. The third hub at the Allendale Hampton Jasper Regional Library is connected to the USC Salkehatchie tower by using Siklu Etherhaul equipment (5G, 60Ghz mmWave radios).

In addition to public Wi-Fi, Revolution D worked with SCETV to design and deploy a private LTE fixed wireless network or citizens broadband radio service (CBRS). CBRS is a band of radio-frequency spectrum from 3.5GHz to 3.7GHz that was made generally available for commercial deployment in January 2020 by the Federal Communications Commission. The Allendale Broadband Pilot Program is one of the first CBRS deployments in the nation.

Revolution D worked with Palmetto Rural Telephone Cooperative to establish a link from the main fiber network to two SCETV towers located at USC Salkehatchie and at Allendale Elementary School. Dominion Energy South Carolina helped to provide power to the sites, and corporate partners Linksys, Siklu, and Ookla® made significant contributions to the initiative. Local contractors were used for all engineering design and construction activities.

The result of the work was that a residential network was created that now provides internet access to approximately 1,000 homes in the Allendale community. Wireless network speeds will vary depending on each home’s geography, but initial tests have logged maximum download/upload speeds of 78 Mbps/6 Mbps.

In February, the first routers were distributed to 20 eligible families with students in the Allendale County School District. The remainder of the 300 devices purchased for this project will be distributed at no cost to additional residents.

“Providing wireless internet service where there was no access before using existing community assets such as water towers or nearby ETV towers provides a bridge to broadband,” said Jim Stritzinger of the ORS. “We were able to go into rural Allendale County and in 61 days we had 1,000 homes with internet access.”

“That’s tremendously exciting because it’s replicable. If you can do it in rural Allendale County, you can do it anywhere.”

ORS Executive Director Nanette Edwards said the project’s success was the result of dedicated stakeholders.

"This project could never have come to fruition without an incredible amount of willingness on so many people's parts to do whatever they could to help," Edwards said. "Everybody involved understood how important it was to this community to bring internet connectivity here as quickly as possible, and everyone gave of themselves and their time to make it a reality."

As part of the Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP), the Allendale pilot project helped aid the expansion of broadband infrastructure with emphasized services to rural communities and communities with a high prevalence of COVID-19 or with demographic characteristics consistent with risk factors for COVID-19.

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES Act” was passed by Congress to help provide relief to the United States economy from the COVID-19 pandemic. The South Carolina General Assembly passed Act 142 authorizing the ORS to expend up to $50 million for broadband initiatives related to COVID-19. Included in this $50 million was funding to expand broadband access through the BIP.

More information can be found at ORS.SC.GOV/broadband.