About one-third of South Carolina residents do not have access to high-speed internet in their homes. For some, the service is not available. For others, it’s not affordable.
A group called Connected Nation says lack of high-speed internet access limits education, health care and economic opportunities. The group created a six-county Promise Zone encompassing some of the state’s neediest areas for connectivity. Many of the same counties were considered the “Corridor of Shame” in an educational documentary.
“They looked at the same corridor, the same counties and they see opportunities,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said. Clyburn was at the Promise Zone Technology Action Plan announcement in Barnwell on Monday. “It doesn’t erase the fact that there are challenges, particularly when it comes to connectivity and communications services.”
Clyburn, daughter of South Carolina U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, said the plan is to create corporate and local partnerships to improve connectivity in the Promise Zone.
“It is a local initiative that is tightly woven together by the Connected Nation umbrella,” she said. “The problems are unique but solvable.”
She said state governments need to consider internet and wireless technology along with infrastructure such as roads, bridges and water and sewer service.
“It’s really a targeted approach to some of the most critical areas when it comes to a lack of broadband and the lack of other infrastructure and the opportunities needed to take those communities to the next level,” she said.
For example, with a lack of high-speed internet connection, hospitals and doctors offices don’t have quick access to medical records through telehealth programs.
In the Promise Zone, 27 percent of the residents do not have a high-speed internet connection at home.
“A lot of this is due to the fact that they can’t afford it,” she said. “So in addition to not having the infrastructures in some of these areas, we have a broadband divide, in large part, due to the lack of affordability in South Carolina.”
Clyburn said the federal government needs to offer programs through the Universal Services Construct. She said billions of dollars are available through the Connect America Fund.
“We need to have incentives in place be there tax incentives, be there own universal service fund, that would target those places where the businesses cannot currently be made,” Clyburn said.
The Promise Zone includes Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.
“We need to take the unique needs of the communities in mind when we develop these programs and when we create plans for them,” Clyburn said.
Representatives from the SouthernCarolina Regional Economic Alliance, USDA Rural Development Office and internet service providers joined Clyburn Monday to discuss the Technology Action Plan.
“It took us months to understand the broadband landscape within the Promise Zone,” said Jim Stritzinger, Director of Connect South Carolina. “Working with area representatives, we gathered data from a number of sectors to help determine the best approach to improving access in the region overall.”
“Technology and the ability to connect globally are key to giving our industries, businesses, and schools a competitive edge in this ever-changing international landscape,” said Sandra D. Bland, SC Promise Zone Coordinator for SouthernCarolina Alliance. “In fact, it’s the great equalizer, leveling the playing field for our rural areas. With state-of-the-art broadband access, it doesn’t matter where a business, school, or retail operation is located. We can access information, goods, and services instantly and do business around the world. The broadband initiative will be a game-changer for the SouthernCarolina Alliance region.”
The four Promise Zones are: Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota; The South Carolina Lowcountry; the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; Southeastern Kentucky Highlands.