Companies work to get high-speed Internet to areas

AIKEN --- Catherine McKevie wants high-speed Internet at her restaurant on University Parkway.


She could take orders via e-mail, send out menus, even put up a Web page for The Lemonade Stand, the small diner she runs with her daughter.

But when the worker from Atlantic Broadband came out about a month ago, he said wiring would have to be run to her building just down the road from the University of South Carolina Aiken.

And the cost would be $2,000.

"I said, 'No, that's OK,' " she recalls.

Ms. McKevie can't get high-speed Internet at her house, either, and it's just up South Carolina Highway 19 on Good Spring Road, right outside the city of Aiken.

With high-speed Internet widely available -- and becoming a normal part of life -- there are still pockets, even in urban areas, where customers can only slowly surf the Web -- if at all.

"It's very frustrating to me," Ms. McKevie said. "I know someone in this area has it."

The Federal Communications Commission reported last month that there were 100.9 million lines of high-speed Internet service as of June 2007, more than half of them in homes.

About half of those came from cable modems, with DSL and other forms making up the rest.

The FCC says 82 percent of American households with phone hookups also have access to DSL, and cable companies could provide Internet to 96 percent of their potential customers.

A state-by-state breakdown, however, shows that availability is lower for those living in South Carolina for both DSL and cable Internet. Georgia's DSL availability is higher than the national average, and only slightly lower for cable.

However, help is on the way for those living in rural areas without the cable and DSL options that urban residents have.

Sam McGill, the spokesman for Atlantic Broadband, said it's not unusual for some places to be outside his company's reach.

Often, he said, a new customer is beyond the 150-foot boundary created by their cable box, which is located on power poles. If they were within that boundary, he said, Atlantic Broadband would charge a very small installation fee and run the wires.

But if they're beyond 150 feet, he explained, the company charges an average of $5 per foot to hook the structure up to service.

Atlantic Broadband, which bought out G-Force Cable, has spent $10 million upgrading equipment and service for existing customers, Mr. McGill said.

The company, which services more than 50,000 homes in South Carolina, the majority in Aiken County, added 1,168 homes to its service area last year.

Another $10 million is budgeted for expansion this year, Mr. McGill said, and the company predicts that 1,128 homes will be added to its service area.

The company gets requests for service from customers living outside its area, he said.

"But there are some pockets that we don't reach," he said.

Having those pockets is not unique to Atlantic Broadband.

There are sections of Augusta that can't get high-speed Internet -- even in the middle of the city.

AT& T, which bought out BellSouth, can't provide DSL service to some sections that are off Walton Way in the Hill area.

Della Bowling, a spokeswoman for AT&T, said the company wants to improve service and offers a way for customers who can't get DSL to still get high-speed Internet: through satellite service, albeit at a significantly higher price than the cheapest DSL plan.

Wireless plans are also available, she said.

Customers can only wait to see whether their area is finally Internet ready.

Until then, the McKevies will use a fax machine to take orders and send out menus. Co-owner Samantha McKevie said she is baffled about why part of their street has service but their home is not included.

Their business, she said, is down the street from USC Aiken and Aiken High School, and an apartment complex is behind it.

Not having the option, she said, "is really hard for business."

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is getting in on the act. The department's rural services division recently announced that a Colorado company will get a $267 million loan to provide broadband service to 518 rural communities in 17 states.

South Carolina -- and Aiken County -- are among those future recipients of wireless, portable broadband connections for areas that can't get cable or DSL.