Senate Report: Broadband Access

Far too many South Carolinians do not have broadband access. Without broadband access, our citizens do not have access to things like telehealth, online learning, job opportunities, and more. According to Broadband Now, South Carolina is currently ranked 31st in the country when it comes to state broadband access. The Federal Communications Commission estimates 650,000 South Carolinians don’t have access to broadband internet, including more than 552,000 people who live in rural areas, and more than 97,000 people who live in urban areas.
COVID-19 has not only re-shaped our everyday lives, it’s also highlighted how much disparity still exists in the area of broadband. Many students were unable to receive online instruction due to the lack of internet service at home. In some cases, students did not have access to the internet; in other cases, it may not have been affordable. A portion of the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) was allocated for mobile hotspots or monthly internet service through December 21, 2020.
Also, a portion of the CRF was allocated for broadband infrastructure. Expansion of broadband infrastructure will emphasize services to rural communities and communities with a high prevalence of Covid-19 or with demographic characteristics consistent with risk factors for Covid-19. The Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) has approved 81 applications submitted by 13 Broadband Service providers within 29 counties. These projects have to be completed by December 2020. Through this ORS estimates that through this program more than 25,000 households and more than 1,000 businesses that don’t currently have access would be able to get service.
ORS has requested all broadband service providers and broadband infrastructure owners operating in SC to submit data and information on the availability of broadband service at delivered download and upload speeds and by technology type for each address in the state serviceable by the broadband service provider or infrastructure owner. CoastQuest Associates is the vendor selected by ORS to process broadband service data to analyze the current state of broadband attributes across South Carolina and produce a service area map. These maps should be completed by the end of November. This will be an essential tool in moving forward on making sure that every South Carolinian has access to affordable broadband.
In another effort to get broadband in our rural communities, we recently passed a new law that will allow electric co-ops that serve mostly rural communities, can lease out space on existing electric poles, in conduits and easements, to broadband providers for reasonable prices and conditions, for the purpose of running high-speed internet lines.
I cannot stress how important affordable broadband access to the future of our state. These steps that we are taking are just the beginning. This has to continue to be a top priority for our state.
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As with all matters concerning state government, I want to hear your opinions and suggestions concerning these issues. Please contact me in my Columbia office located at 608 Gressette Office Building. You can reach me, or a member of my staff in Columbia at (803) 212-6000 or by fax at (803) 212-6011. My district office is located at 2523 East Highway 76, Marion, SC 29571, the phone number is (843) 423-8237 and the fax number is (843) 431-6049. You may also email me at [email protected]
My business phone is (843) 423-3904. Please use this information to write, call or email me with your suggestions and concerns regarding issues before the Senate and in our community.