WCTEL Annual Meeting centers on bridging the digital divide and a deepened commitment to the membership

August 18, 2023 — WCTEL’s 2023 Annual Meeting of the Membership told a story of growth and a reenforced commitment to its cooperative areas.  

The broadband cooperative held its 71st Annual Meeting of the Membership on August 14 at the Abbeville Civic Center. With more than 130 members and guests attending the meeting, WCTEL leadership provided updates on growth, enhancements to customer experience, new services and updates on the Affordable Connectivity Program, which saves qualifying households $30 on their monthly internet bill.  

This year three board seats were up for election. Results were as follows: 

Mrs. Aimee Gray – Area 1 – Starr 

Mr. Robert Hester – Area 6 – Calhoun Falls 

Mr. Tag Bussey – Area 9 – South McCormick 

WCTEL Board Chairman Wes McAllister called on cooperative roots as he reflected on WCTEL’s formation 71 years ago and the reasons for today’s growth. 

“Today we have fellow South Carolinians left behind in the digital divide,” McAllister said. “The numbers and statistics in those communities do not lie. Fortunately, our federal and state government recognizes that internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity. So, they too, are rolling up their sleeves and doing something about it. And, we’re grateful to be their partners. This past year, the State of South Carolina entrusted us with $40 million in federal funding to help connect the Upstate.” 

Through the cooperative’s subsidiary brand Upcountry Fiber, more than 1,000 miles of fiber have been laid throughout the Upstate this past year and more than 13,000 orders have been taken since the start of the project. The multi-year project comprises 6,000 miles, and when complete, will pass 65,000 addresses. 

“Our growth allows us to continue to serve YOU, take care of our communities and be a cooperative force for support, service and good,” McAllister said. “It’s what allows us to continue to invest in our infrastructure here at home, so you are receiving state-of-the-art service.” 

WCTEL CEO Jeff Wilson emphasized the importance of not just providing internet service to underserved areas, but also making it affordable, referencing the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). 

Launched in spring of 2020, ACP provides a $30 monthly savings on internet service for qualified households.  

“We currently have 1,385 customers enrolled in the ACP program – a jump of almost 700 since last year,” Wilson said. “This year, anyone with a student enrolled in a public school within our area is eligible to receive this benefit.” 

Wilson and McAllister also discussed WCTEL’s continuing commitment to providing community support and excellent customer service. The cooperative recently embarked on a customer experience initiative and also launched a new managed WiFi service in 2023, WiFi X. 

“Simply put, WiFi X not only protects your homes from incoming threats and viruses, but it puts YOU in the driver’s seat of your home WiFi,” Wilson said. “It enables you to run speed tests, set up guest networks, change your WiFi password easily, prioritize bandwidth, and for our parents, it gives you greater control and insight into your child’s internet usage. It’s just a better experience, and that is our promise to you. We don’t offer products and services; we provide an experience, hopefully a good one.” 

Both McAllister and Wilson updated the membership on community impact activities, including continued support for the Freshwater Coast Community Foundation-supported Abbeville Promise Program and multiple community partnerships and sponsorships, along with the introduction of the Upcountry Fiber Foundation, which supports charitable organizations and causes in the Upstate.  

“I commend our staff, our board and all of you for collectively serving our communities, and understanding why we’re here: To serve, to connect and to make each other’s walks on this earth just a little easier,” Wilson said.