MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (AP) — Santee Cooper is taking applications from companies that want to use its extra fiber and transmission lines to bring broadband internet to rural areas.

The state-owned utility said it has 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) of extra lines, many in the most rural areas of South Carolina that currently don’t have broadband access.

Santee Cooper won’t provide the service directly, but is asking companies that want to apply to offer broadband to visit its website.

The utility’s board agreed to the program last month after legislators passed a bill late in 2020 allowing the utility to join with private companies on the project. The need for broadband all over the state came to the forefront after schools closed their buildings and went to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The General Assembly and Gov. (Henry) McMaster quickly picked up on the critical need for better broadband access highlighted by situations created by the pandemic,” Santee Cooper President Mark Bonsall said in a statement.

Santee Cooper provides power for about 2 million of South Carolina’s 5 million people either directly or through selling power to 20 electric cooperatives across the state.