Local leaders calling for the expansion of broadband to rural, remote areas

Hundreds of millions of dollars are already earmarked to the state by the FCC to expand broadband

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —As some South Carolinians try to get their lives back on track, some are saying now is the perfect time to expand broadband access, especially in rural areas.

With thousands of South Carolinians losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, some say people in rural areas are struggling even more since some don’t have one thing: access to high-speed internet. 

“I worry about people who don’t have access to that since they’re just left to figure it out or what on a phone call. It could be a nightmare,” said Jessica Denson with ConnectedNation, an organization promoting the expansion of broadband nationwide.

To help these people, Dan Ellzey, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) told members of the Senate “Reopen SC” Select Committee Thursday that his team is setting up call centers in rural areas.

“If number one, we can get broadband, if number two, we can get computers, if number three we can train them, we open up a whole new world for them because they’d be working in Greenville and Raleigh, North Carolina, sitting in their home in Allendale, South Carolina,” Ellzey said.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) says the Federal Communications Commission has set aside $353 million for South Carolina to expand broadband access.

Referring to the internet as the “highway of information,” Rep. Clyburn says providing more funding for broadband expansion is something that should be done sooner rather than later.

“We need to spread that money out now, the FCC is planning on spreading that out over a period of years. I think we need to commit that money by June 30, and we’ve got to say you’ve got to bill out in twelve months,” Rep. Clyburn said.

Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) says recent innovations in telehealth and distance learning, especially as more people have had to use these services due to the pandemic, have strengthened his faith in statewide broadband.

“Internet access in the rural areas, or all across the state, is a very positive thing for the health, safety, and prosperity of the people of the state,” the Governor said.

House Majority Whip Clyburn says he will propose additional legislation in the House that calls for $86 billion to connect all Americans to high-speed internet.

The Resource subcommittee of “accelerateSC”, a task force created by the Governor to find safe ways to reopen the state economy, recommended that $100 million of the $1.9 billion the state is receiving through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act go towards expanding broadband across the state.

After Tuesday’s “accelerateSC” meeting, Gov. McMaster said he should receive a full document of all the recommendations, including the one for broadband, by next Tuesday, saying he would share that list with members of the General Assembly.

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