Local communities, groups work to bridge the digital divide in South Carolina
Citizens in Newberry now could have have access to one gigabyte of broadband in their homes
NEWBERRY, S.C. (WOLO) —Over the last few months, the idea of providing broadband to all South Carolinians is something that has been picking up steam.
Some estimates show that thousands of South Carolinians still don’t have basic internet access.
Recently, members of the General Assembly voted to set aside $50 million to help some communities strengthen broadband access, continuing a years-long process to bridge the digital divide across the state.
At last week’s House COVID-19 Public Education Committee meeting, Jim Stritzinger with Revolution D told lawmakers it could cost $800 million over five years to connect all South Carolinians to the internet.
Several people have touted the benefits of having a connected state, ranging from broader employment options to expanded education access to newer innovations like telehealth.
“It just changes your life when you have good internet and you’re able to do things that you couldn’t do in the past,” said Glenn Martin, the CEO of Carolina Connect.
Meanwhile some communities are taking matters into their own hands.
Through a partnership with WC Fiber, the City of Newberry rolled out a new broadband fiber network that gives people within their city limits access to 1 gigabyte of broadband.
According to Mayor Foster Senn, the city didn’t use any grants to create the network, but it would earn money back through a monthly fee citizens would have to pay to access the service.
“This to me is just another step as we work to improve Newberry, that our individuals, our citizens, and our business community can compete at a national level,” Mayor Senn said.
Mayor Senn told ABC Columbia News that businesses and students coming back from college said the internet speed in Newberry is now just as fast, if not faster, than what they experienced in bigger cities.
“That’s what we’re trying to provide here is the means to do everything you can do in a big town right here with the comforts of small town living,” said Matt DeWitt, Newberry’s City Manager.
Just down the road in Lexington County, CarolinaConnect has worked with local electrical co-ops to get broadband to over 11,000 people in both rural Lexington and Newberry Counties in three years. Right now, Martin says more than 22,000 people have expressed interest in getting their homes hooked up with internet access.
“We’ve got a lot of folks who need internet and especially since COVID-19, we’ve really had a lot of people who are studying from home, working from home, and are able to do anything they could in the office because they have really good internet,” Martin said.
Graham Adams, the CEO of the S.C. Office of Rural Health, said it’s up to local leaders to continue pushing for broadband in their communities, which he says would allow for more people to compete with those in larger communities.
According to BroadbandNow, there are 344,000 South Carolinians who don’t have access to basic internet in their homes. The same group says six counties (Allendale, Chesterfield, Hampton, McCormick, Marlboro, and Saluda) have less than 60% of their population who don’t have access to at least 100 megabits per second worth of internet.