COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – Broadband connectivity has been a consistent issue during this coronavirus pandemic. Several lawmakers wanted to address coverage gaps in the state that have left many students and patients disconnected.
South Carolina lawmakers have already vowed to spend $50 million to improve internet access here in the state, but based on testimony from experts earlier this week, that money only scratches the surface for what is needed.
“I cannot help but think about a 6-year-old child that has no internet. And I know we’re all focused on that, but my point is we can’t take 10 years to get this right,” said Jim Stritzinger.
Issues with access to high speed internet have been brought to the forefront with the coronavirus pandemic, impacting education, healthcare and business.
“Speed equals quality of service particularly for students doing their homework; residents trying to get a telehealth assessment in their house they need a good quality service to get the job done,” said Stritzinger.
Data shows more than 180,000 South Carolinians don’t have internet. But as members of the COVID-19 Education Committee learned Wednesday, there is no quick or easy way to connect them.
Members are looking into short term options like mobile hot spots for students which has limitations.
“There’s going to be areas where that wireless tower is not available to that student,” said Nanette Edwards with the Office of Regulatory Staff.
And datacasting which uses transmitters that turn SCETV’s broadcast signal into WiFi for students allowing them to access specific content only.
“If it’s something a district wants to send to all elementary students, they can identify that group and send it, or if it’s something for the entire state, it could be a state wide cast,” said Anthony Padgett, the CEO of SCETV.
But long-term funding is needed to build the infrastructure to support high speed internet. Experts say it will take at least four years to get everyone connected.
To help with those long-term goals four counties in the state have received grants from the USDA and FCC totaling more than $40 million, which would provide 36,000 residents with the internet.