Issues with broadband access brought to the forefront during coronavirus crisis

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COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA)- For many South Carolinians, hopping on the internet is as simple as the click of a button, but for several counties in the state that luxury is not available.

“It’s a shame we do not have broadband for all of South Carolina,” said Greg Ryberg in a meeting Wednesday. Members of Accelerate SC presented the task force’s final list of recommendations to a group of lawmakers ahead of the full Accelerate SC meeting Thursday with Governor Henry McMaster.

More than 500,000 residents don’t have access to high speed internet.

Representative Shedron Williams represents some of those residents. “In Beaufort County, where I serve, in Sheldon, it’s the same thing. Even with telephone service. There’s no internet service. In Jasper County, it’s a similar situation. So we are cut off from the livelihood of connecting with the real world.”

In large cities, affordability keeps residents from being connected. But in rural areas, like a Jasper or Hampton county, there’s a bigger barrier.

“What we call the last mile. The last mile of the rural population. It might be 10 families down there. So for an internet provider to make the business case, it’s hard for them. They have to have return on their investment. So it’s hard to know it will be years and years before getting a return because the cost of getting them internet is so much,” explained Jessica Denson with Connected Nation.

Connected Nation is an advocacy group aimed at creating initiatives and solutions for states to bring broadband internet access to their residents.

Members of Accelerate SC identified broadband internet access as a huge issue in the process of reopening the state. The task force is recommending lawmakers spend more than $100 million to connect South Carolinians.

Ryberg outlined the spending, “$80 million proposed to build broadband infrastructure.”

Lawmakers have also been trying to address the digital divide for years. Most recently, a bill to reimburse internet providers to expand internet access passed in the House in the first year of the 2 year session.

Representative Williams stressed the urgency of getting something passed quickly. “We in the rural part of the state we were caught with our hands down. We were unprepared.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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