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Horry Telephone Cooperative announced recently that they plan to install high-speed internet and Wi-Fi at homes of students who are currently not connected and in their providing areas, and provide it at no charge for two months.

HTC’s Chief Executive of Corporate Communications and Government Relations Brent Groome said that they worked with HCS to identify more than 800 students that don’t have internet access with which to complete their schoolwork.

“We are very fortunate to have many amazing community and business partners in our county. HTC reached out to us and wanted to provide additional internet support for our students. This generous gesture is in addition to HCS opening the parking lots of any HCS school building for internet access, which is available in these areas between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday,” said Horry County Schools spokesperson Lisa Bourcier.

HCS households without current internet should call (843) 369-7000 to schedule their installation.

Thanks to COVID-19, more employees in the county are working from home, and students are home from school using the internet to finish schoolwork.

“We feel good about our position with the additional load on our network,” said Brent Groome, chief executive of corporate communications and government relations for Horry Telephone Cooperative (HTC).

Groome said that over the years, HTC continued to put millions of dollars into their network so that they have one of the biggest fiber networks in the state.

“We’re in really good shape in regards to bandwidth connecting directly to the internet. We have redundant routes to the internet backbone so in the event of a cut or failure on one side, we are still up,” Groome said.

Groome said that they have seen roughly a ten percent increase in usage, but they are trying to determine if that usage is happening differently than it was, say, a month ago.

“…where we would see certain patterns with industry and business using it, as opposed to the 4 p.m. spike when kids get home from school and get on video games,” Groome said.

He said that up to this point, there had not been a huge need by Horry County Schools, or any school across the state that could give an exact figure on how many students did not have internet access.

“Going forward that’s probably going to change for everybody,” Groome said. “We worked with them [HCS] so we could be surgical in using our resources to get to the ones who don’t have service.”

As for the manpower to make these connections happen, Groome said their staff is being “realigned” instead of making lots of new hires. Since larger construction jobs are slowing, those employees working on them are being moved to smaller scale jobs to keep up with demand.

HTC recently announced three new economic initiatives for their residents and business customers to help with the effects of COVID-19.

Effective immediately, HTC is temporarily suspending any service disconnects for non-payment and waiving late fees, is temporarily postponing a cable rate increase that previously was supposed to happen on April 1, and they are also providing a $20 bill credit to all residential and business Internet subscribers for April and May.

Beginning today, the lobby areas of all of their offices will be closed to the public, but drive-thru, online and phone business will still be conducted.

“We are trying to reach out to business communities and let them know our capabilities to help with work from home situations or remote working,” Groome said. “We are trying to find things that we can do to keep us all going.”

Another area provider, Spectrum (Charter Communications), sent a release last week saying that they are prepared for extra demand as well, and are offering free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband connection. Those in their service area can call (844) 488-8395 to enroll.

They will also be opening their Wi-Fi hotspots across their footprint for public use.

A spokesperson for Spectrum said they had not seen a huge increase in daytime activity, and are confident their customers would not have any issues.

“Our network is built to exceed capacity at peak usage, which is typically in the evenings. We monitor our own networks 24/7 and consult regularly with other connectivity providers. It is still early, but thus far, across our network and theirs, any increase in daytime network activity has been modest, far below capacity and even still well below typical evening usage,” they said.

Bob Elek, public relations director for Frontier Communications said their network continues to be reliable.

“The network continues to perform well with a slight uptick in bandwidth consumption at certain times. Frontier’s engineers monitor our network 24x7 in real time. Anticipating increased demand for telework, distance learning, and connectivity services, Frontier is implementing additional capacity,” Elek said. "Frontier has joined as a partner in the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge to promote connectivity for Americans impacted by the disruptions caused by COVID-19.  We will work with customers who may be facing challenges as a result of the Coronavirus and continue to explore ways to provide relief and access to those in need."

To find the most updated information on Frontier's coverage, check out https://internet.frontier.com.

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