Lynches River may offer rural high-speed internet

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By Stephanie Jadrnicek

Lynches River Electric Cooperative may be bringing high-speed fiber-optic internet to its members.
Through July 15, members and nonmembers can participate in an online survey to express interest in obtaining fiber-optic internet service at survey.lynchesriver.com.
Lynches River communications coordinator Tyson Blanton said the co-op doesn’t currently offer internet service, but she knows there’s a need for faster internet speeds in rural areas.
“We’re hearing a lot of people saying they’re getting one megabit per second for upload and for download, or five megabits is as much as they can get,” she said. “There’s also people who don’t have access to internet at all.”
Lynches River provides electric service to about 16,000 members in Chesterfield, Lancaster and Kershaw counties. In Lancaster alone, the co-op is operating more than 8,000 meters in the eastern part of the county.
Some residents in Lynches’ service area get internet service through Comporium and HughesNet.
Comporium offers DSL, cable and fiber-optic service in some areas around Heath Springs and Kershaw, but not near Buford. Its speeds range from 29 megabits with DSL to 1,000 megabits with fiber optics.
HughesNet offers satellite internet service with maximum speeds of 25 megabits.
Blanton said Lynches’ proposed fiber-optic service would start at 100 megabits per second for upload and download, but members could purchase increased speeds.
According to Blanton, co-ops have blazed tech trails before.
“We wouldn’t have had electricity if it wasn’t for co-ops running lines out into the rural areas where big companies couldn’t make a profit.”
Lynches River was organized in 1939 to provide electricity to residents in rural areas where electric energy wasn’t available. Now, it’s looking at doing the same thing with fiber-optic internet.
“It’s not beneficial for big companies. They’re not going to make big profits by running fiber out to rural areas,” Blanton said. “That’s why we’re looking into doing it – to meet that same need we did in the ’30s with electricity.”
When revenue exceeds expenses in a for-profit company, profits usually benefit the stakeholders. However, as a nonprofit, the co-op returns unused income back to its members in the form of a refund called a capital credit.
“We’re not supposed to make a profit. We’re supposed to keep our margins as small as possible and return what’s left over after we’re in good financial standing,” Blanton said. “That’s why it’s possible for us to provide fiber-optic service. We’re not trying make a profit.”
She said it’s too early in the process to estimate costs, but Lynches River would provide the service at a competitive price.
The survey is open to co-op members and nonmembers and requires less than five minutes to complete. Anyone interested can test the current speed of their internet using a test feature at the bottom of the survey’s webpage.
“We need to have a certain level of interest for us to move forward,” Blanton said. “We will present the results to the decision makers at Lynches River, and we should have a decision by the beginning of September. At that point, we’ll have more information about timeline, process and pricing.”
The survey closes at midnight July 15 and is available at survey.lynchesriver.com.

Contact Stephanie Jadrnicek at (803) 283-1152.