History has proven that cooperatives play a vital role in connecting rural communities. In 1940, Palmetto Electric Cooperative was formed by a group of rural residents who recognized the need for electricity and wanted to be part of the solution. When investor-owned utilities refused to bring electric service to the rural areas of our community, your cooperative went to work. Today, more than 80 years later, members living in these same rural communities face a different, yet similar, challenge with the lack of access to high-speed internet service.
As I mentioned at May’s Annual Meeting, the COVID-19 pandemic shed more light on the digital divide between rural and urban areas, as students transitioned to virtual learning and many employees worked remotely from home. At Palmetto Electric, we believe high-speed internet should no longer be considered a luxury, but an essential service, much like electricity.
Palmetto Electric’s management and Board of Directors have been researching ways to improve the co-op’s communications infrastructure in order to provide a more reliable high-speed network connection between our offices, substations, and grid-connected equipment in rural areas. Throughout this process, it became clear that we could leverage this upgraded network to not only improve our internal operation but also fill the gaps in the digital divide.
I am pleased to announce that Palmetto Electric Cooperative and Palmetto Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC), headquartered in Walterboro, have joined together to form PalmettoLink, a broadband project aimed at delivering high-speed internet service to members living in rural Allendale, Hampton and Jasper counties. We are confident in this partnership as PRTC has served the South Carolina Lowcountry since 1951 and shares our cooperative values.
This project will be implemented over the next three years and will begin with the installation of fiber-optic cable on Palmetto Electric’s lines. This fiber-optic network will not only improve the reliability of our electric, distribution system but will also deliver the high-speed connections that many of our members desperately need. Providing adequate high-speed internet access to our members is consistent with our mission of supporting the communities we serve. As we move forward with PalmettoLink, it is our sincere hope that this expanded internet access creates opportunities for our members in the form of education, jobs, economic development, and overall quality of life.
We look forward to sharing more details with you very soon.