COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Over 100,000 more families in South Carolina have internet access right now than compared to this time last year.
The state’s timeline to connect everyone is significantly sped up because of nearly half-a-billion dollars that have been or will be spent on this work.
“We are on the road to building out South Carolina, totally building out our state — every residence, every business, I think the governor says in three to five years, we’re going to be able to do that,” Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn said.
Clyburn joined Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and leaders from the state office that oversees South Carolina’s spending on broadband expansion on Monday at the State House to mark the progress they have made on that work in the last year.
The state has appropriated $490 million toward it, much of that coming from the federal government, especially through pandemic-relief packages. Other dollars have come from the state itself, while internet service providers are contributing their own significant share.
So far, South Carolina has awarded around $55 million of that money, with the next tranche of funding of $180 million set to be awarded by the end of the year.
New broadband standards from the federal government mean when previously unconnected households do get connected, they are oftentimes receiving better service than places that already had it.
“They’re leapfrogging. Many are going straight away to fiber infrastructure, which will equip them well for the future,” SC Broadband Office Director Jim Stritzinger said.
But still some parts of South Carolina have no internet service available at all.
The state estimates upwards of 150,000 homes are still unconnected, which is about 5.4% of South Carolina’s population.
“This is not an affordability issue. This is a lack-of-infrastructure issue,” Stritzinger said.
Stritzinger said that as directed by the General Assembly, his office is prioritizing allocations in those areas where there are currently no service providers, along with places with high development costs relative to incomes there and with more school-age kids.
“We particularly want the children, the young people in our state to have access to things they have not had access to before,” McMaster said.
Clyburn, who chaired the Congressional panel that oversaw federal pandemic relief spending, said their inclusion of broadband expansion opportunities in those programs was spurred by the number of children who lacked internet access at home during the shift to virtual learning, leading many to fall behind.
“When it comes to education, when it comes to health, whatever it is, broadband will make all of these things accessible and affordable,” Clyburn said.
State leaders said their work will not stop with expanding access but also ensuring it is affordable.
That includes making more South Carolinians aware of programs that help with costs, including the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers eligible households a monthly subsidy of up to $30 for these bills.
According to Clyburn, more than 260,000 South Carolina households have already enrolled in that discount program.
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