CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – The COVID Pandemic exposed a major problem in the Palmetto State nearly two years ago; tens of thousands of people did not have access to high-speed broadband internet.
But is the problem getting any better?
Shamika Holmes lives in Georgetown County and first told us about her issue two years ago. At the time, her four kids had been attending classes from the comfort of their own rooms. But, she was having a serious problem: she only had access to satellite internet which had connectivity issues and the price tag was astronomical. Unfortunately, not much has changed.
“We went from paying around $250 a month to $400 a month and it’s a little faster but it still runs out and it’s still not where it should be,” Holmes says.
Her kids are now back to school in person but the wide-ranging issue still looms across the state. There are 181,715 households without high-speed internet.
“We need to do better by our people that live out in the county,” Holmes says. “There are plenty of children out there. There are schools out there. There are libraries out there. Everybody needs the adequate amount of internet because we never know when we might end up in another pandemic or in a situation like we had with the hurricane.”
South Carolina allocated $400 million to the broadband office in May. According to Jim Stritzinger, the Director of the Broadband Office, they’re working on targeting high-priority areas in the state.
“That can be one of three things,” Stritzinger explains. “It’s a place where there’s a lot of public school students. It’s where there are what are known as difficult development areas – so US Housing and Urban Development has looked at the whole United States for many years and identified precise geographies that have struggled and also there are places in South Carolina where we simply don’t have any Internet service provider. So if any one of those conditions exists, the map behind me will show off the dark red areas are where one or more of those conditions exist. And so we’ve asked the internet service providers to target those and they’re required in their grant applications to pick at least one.”
The providers have been keeping the broadband office updated on progress by sending in geotagged photos to document their work.
The broadband office also has an open form called the Last Mile Survey, where anyone can tell the broadband office their exact location and that they don’t have internet.
But there’s also a snag when it comes to connecting the underserved areas.
“Your viewers will like to understand the fact they have to build from where they already are to a place where there’s no service,” Stritzinger says. “You can’t just parachute in and create broadband service. You have to actually build and construct the networks. So they’re all working on that very tactically and building very precise maps.”
Stritzinger explains it costs about $50,000 per mile to bury fiber and another $50,000 to put in a telephone pole. A reason it can get so expensive so fast to reach the partially populated areas and why the investment from the state is so important.
But for people like Holmes, they’re willing to pay for the service.
“Come out and just talk to the people that live in a neighborhood,” Holmes says. “I mean when I didn’t have internet access, I was willing to pay anything for my children to have internet. It’s so essential today to have it. Just come out take the chance. I mean the money that you spend to come out there you’re going to make it back because people are going to pay for that because they need it.”
The current round of projects by providers is set to be completed by October 31.
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